Quick Tips: Alternative Assessments

Throughout the past year and a half, instructors have made significant changes to the way they design and deliver their courses. The sudden shift to being fully remote, then hybrid, and now back to face-to-face for some courses has required instructors to rethink not only the way they teach, but also the way they assess their students. Many who have previously found success with traditional tests and exams are now seeking alternative forms of assessment, some of which are described below:

Homework assignments: Adding more weight to homework assignments is one way to take the pressure off of high stakes exams while keeping students engaged with course material. Homework assignments will vary according to the subject, but they may include answering questions from a chapter in a textbook, writing a summary of a reading or topic discussed in class, participating in an online discussion board, writing a letter, solving a problem set, etc.

Research paper:  Students can apply their knowledge by writing a research paper. To help ensure a successful outcome, a research paper can be set up as a scaffolded assignment, where students turn in different elements of the paper, such as a proposal, an outline, first and second drafts, bibliography, etc. throughout the semester, and then the cumulative work at the end.

Individual or group presentations: Student presentations can be done live for the class or prerecorded ahead of time using multimedia software (e.g., Panopto, VoiceThread) that can be viewed asynchronously. Depending on the subject matter, presentations may consist of a summary of content, a persuasive argument, a demonstration, a case study, an oral report, etc. Students can present individually or in groups.

Reflective paper or journal: Reflective exercises allow students to analyze what they have learned and experienced and how these experiences relate to their learning goals. Students develop an awareness of how they best acquire knowledge and can apply these metacognitive skills to both academic and non-academic settings. Reflective exercises can be guided or unguided and may include journaling, self-assessment, creating a concept map, writing a reflective essay, etc.

Individual or group projects: Student projects may be short-term, designed in a few weeks, or long-term, designed over an entire semester or more. If the project is longer term, it may be a good idea to provide checkpoints for students to check in about their progress and make sure they are meeting deadlines. Ideas for student projects include: creating a podcast, blog, interactive website, interactive map, short film, digital simulation, how-to guide, poster, interview, infographic, etc. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible for students to partner with a community-based organization as part of their project. Another idea is to consider allowing students to propose their own project ideas.

Online Tests and Exams: For instructors who have moved their tests online, it may be worth considering lowering the stakes of these assessments.  Instead of high-stakes midterms and finals, replace them with weekly quizzes that are weighted lower than a traditional midterm or final. Giving more frequent assessments allows for additional opportunities to provide feedback to students and help them reach their goals successfully. To reduce the potential for cheating, include questions that are unique and require higher-level critical thinking. Another consideration is to allow at least some of the quizzes to be open-book.

It’s worth noting that offering students a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge aligns with the principles of universal design for learning (UDL). Going beyond traditional tests and exams helps to ensure that all learners have an opportunity to show what they have learned in a way that works best for them. If you’re looking for more ideas, here are a few sites containing additional alternative assessment strategies:

https://www.scholarlyteacher.com/post/alternatives-to-the-traditional-exam-as-measures-of-student-learning-outcomes

https://teaching.berkeley.edu/resources/course-design-guide/design-effective-assessments/alternatives-traditional-testing

https://cei.umn.edu/alternative-assessment-strategies

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Strategies for an Inclusive Classroom

This summer, the Center for Educational Resources offered a multi-day Best Practices in University Teaching workshop for JHU faculty to learn about evidence-based teaching practices. Participants explored topics such as best practices in course design, active learning strategies, and various assessment techniques. One of the many sessions that generated a great deal of discussion was the Inclusive Pedagogy session, which addressed the importance of accommodating the needs of diverse learners in a supportive environment.  The session was led by Dr. Karen Fleming, a professor in the Biophysics department who is also nationally recognized for her efforts in raising awareness on overcoming biases and barriers to women in STEM.  I played a small role in the presentation by providing a brief introduction and overview of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a research-based educational framework that helps remove unnecessary barriers from the learning process.

During the session, participants were encouraged to examine their own biases by reflecting on an unconscious bias test they took just before the session. Many were clearly dismayed by their own results; Fleming reassured them that we all have biases and that accepting this fact is the first step in addressing them.  She then shared a real-world example of unconscious bias toward women in STEM that is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The shocking results of this study, which show that even women faculty in STEM display a preferential bias toward males over females, resulted in an engaging discussion. The dialogue continued as participants then debriefed about a video they watched, also before the session, which featured a teaching assistant (TA) stereotyping various students as he welcomed them to class.  The video was intentionally exaggerated at times, and participants were eager to point out the “over the top” behavior exhibited by the TA. Participants were inspired to share personal experiences of bias, prejudice, and stereotyping that they’ve encountered in the classroom either as students or instructors.

Toward the end of the session, the focus shifted to thinking about strategies that would mitigate instances of biased behavior and instead encourage a more inclusive classroom environment. hands reaching toward each otherAs a culminating exercise, we asked participants to consider the principles of UDL as well as ideas and discussions from earlier in the session to complete an “Inclusive Strategies Worksheet;” the worksheet would contain concrete strategies that would make a measurable difference in terms of inclusivity in their classrooms. The participants were very thoughtful in their responses and several of their ideas are worth sharing:

  • Administer a pre- or early-semester survey to get to know the students and build community.
  • Include a “campus climate” section in the syllabus with language expressing a commitment to respecting diverse opinions and being inclusive.
  • On the first day of class, have students create a “Community Agreement” to establish ground rules for class discussions, online discussions, and group activities. This can be revisited throughout the semester to adjust what is working/not working.
  • Acknowledge that there may be uncomfortable moments as we face mistakes and hold each other and ourselves accountable. Encourage students to “call in” when mistakes (intentional or not) occur, rather than “call out” or “cancel” so that we may learn from each other.
  • Work collaboratively with students to develop rubrics for assignments.
  • Include authors and guest speakers with varied cultures, backgrounds, and identities. Include images, readings, examples, and other course materials that are diversified. If opportunities are limited, have students do a reflective exercise on who/what is missing from the research.
  • Share content with students in multiple ways: research papers, videos, images, graphs, blog entries, etc.
  • Increase the number of active learning activities to enrich the learning experience.
  • Offer options to students: vary the types of assignments given and allow for a choice of ways to demonstrate knowledge among students when possible.
  • Follow accessibility guidelines: ensure video/audio recordings have closed captioning and/or a transcript, for example.
  • Create opportunities for students to discuss their lived experiences in the classroom and/or on assignments.
  • Provide opportunities for students to participate anonymously without fear of judgement (i.e. using iClickers or Jamboard).
  • Conduct activities that engage students in small groups so they get to know one another. Encourage students to use these connections to identify study partners. Consider switching groups throughout the semester so students meet additional partners.

Do you have additional strategies to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Best Practices in University Teaching Logo, Pixabay

Lunch and Learn: Working with Teaching Assistants

Lunch and Learn LogoOn December 16, 2020, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted a Lunch and Learn: Working with Teaching Assistants (TAs). Rebecca Pearlman, Senior Lecturer in Biology, and Reid Mumford, Instructional Resource Advisor in Physics and Astronomy, shared strategies for how to best work with TAs to support student learning. Mike Reese from the CER moderated the discussion.

Pearlman manages a mix of graduate and undergraduate level TAs in the Biology department each semester and has worked with hundreds of TAs during her career at Hopkins. Mumford manages approximately 30 graduate level TAs each semester as well as a group of undergraduate learning assistants who help with classroom tasks but do not take part in grading. The following is a combined list of strategies that the presenters shared during the presentation:

  • Set clear expectations – This could include a contract, job overview, checklist of duties, etc.
  • Provide tips for TAs so they are prepared for the semester – This may include training documents, resources, and tools they will need.
  • Take advantage of technology – Google Forms for identifying availability, Doodle polls for arranging meetings, Blackboard site to store answer keys, Slack/MS Teams to communicate among the instructional team.
  • Build community – Take an interest in the TAs and get to know them. This helps to establish positive relationships between the instructor and TAs and among the TAs themselves.
  • Meet weekly – Review upcoming course content, monitor progress of each section, ensure TAs understand their upcoming tasks. Mumford also uses his weekly meetings to provide feedback and encouragement to the TAs.
  • Designate a head TA, if possible – If you have a large number of TAs, it may be beneficial to designate a head TA to help you manage the rest of the group. With his large number of TAs each semester, Mumford relies heavily on his head TA to make sure weekly instructions and tasks are assigned appropriately.
  • Consider feedback from students – TA evaluations can offer helpful feedback to both TAs and instructors. Pearlman noted that student feedback is especially helpful if she needs to make decisions about rehiring a TA. She can pull quotes directly from the evaluations. Mumford noted that he always meets individually with each of his TAs to review their evaluations.group of people having a discussion in front of bulletin board

There were some questions from other faculty members after the presentation:

Q: To what extent do you use undergraduate TAs?

A: Mumford responded that by policy, all of the TAs in his department are graduate students. He went on to say that he finds that experienced TAs are valuable, but it is harder to change their behavior. If they are first year TAs, he has more of an opportunity to shape them.  He does hire undergraduate learning assistants who assist with day to day tasks in the classroom but do not take part in any grading.

Pearlman stated that it seems to vary by department, but in biology, they have a mix of graduate and undgraduate TAs, and all of them participate in grading. She enjoys working with both populations, noting that the undergraduates tend to be self-starters, while the graduates bring a wealth of knowledge from the lab.

Q: To what extent is it useful for TAs to TA twice?

A: Pearlman responded that the undergraduate TAs often stay with her for years. They help each other and learn a lot by continuing in the role. They enjoy teaching the material more than once.

Q: How do you select your TAs?

A: Pearlman replied that the graduate level TAs are assigned to her department, but the undergraduates apply for the position. In the Fall 2020 semester she had 50 students apply for 18 positions. She uses a Google Form to ask them questions such as “why are you excited to be a TA? – or “what can you bring to the position?” Pearlman says she does review their grades, but they are not necessarily a priority; it often comes down to who is available at the right time.

Mumford responded that graduate TAs are assigned, but for the undergraduate learning assistants, he relies on referrals from the graduate TAs. He specifically asks them to recommend  great students. He then follows up with an interview process. Mumford is able to choose his head TA and strongly considers diversity when choosing this person.

Other faculty shared various characteristics that they use to select TAs: enthusiasm for the subject matter, respect for others, patience with students, familiarity with course material, interest in teaching, and above average grades.

Q: What can I do about TAs who do not prioritize their TA duties, such as grading?

A: Reese suggested making expectations very clear but acknowledged that it is a struggle when the TAs have obligations to research faculty as well as their TA duties.

Mumford responded that he checks in with his TAs every week to try and keep them on task. If they are non-responsive, he escalates the issue to the graduate committee to handle. If it continues, he will also reach out to the student’s research advisor and discuss the situation with that person as well.

Pearlman suggested contacting the people who run the graduate program or the department chair for assistance. She also suggested bringing the issue up at a faculty meeting.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Lunch and Learn Logo, Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving to Thriving: Reflections from Teaching Online

On Friday, December 11, 2020, the Office of the Provost, in conjunction with teaching and learning centers across Johns Hopkins University, sponsored a half-day virtual conference titled “Surviving to Thriving: Reflections from Teaching Online.” Faculty, graduate students, and staff came together to share ideas, challenges faced, and best practices when teaching in a virtual environment. Highlights from a few of the sessions are below:

Engaging Students in the Virtual Environment: A panel of faculty representing the School of Education, the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Whiting School of Engineering shared strategies for how building community, synchronous sessions, and using specific tools can help to engage students online.

Building community in an online course helps students feel more connected with each other and can lead to more productive learning. Strategies for community building shared by faculty include:

  • Using ice breaker questions at the beginning of every class
  • Learning student names
  • Setting up sessions to get to know one another (in breakout rooms, online discussion boards, Google Sheets)
  • Offering frequent feedback in multiple formats (email, audio recordings)
  • ‘Humanizing’ situations by admitting mistakes and struggles with technology

Synchronous sessions allow students to experience learning with their peers in a real-time, interactive environment. For students nervous about speaking up during live sessions, faculty members suggested giving them a choice to either use the chat feature or the microphone. One faculty member required his students, in a seminar style class, to ask at least one question during the semester, which helped to build confidence. Another faculty member described posting a ‘speaker list’ ahead of each class so students knew in what order they would be speaking. Not only were students more prepared, but the sessions ran more efficiently. Faculty discussed the challenges of holding synchronous sessions with students in multiple time zones. While most faculty recorded their lectures and made them available online, some offered to give their lecture twice, and allowed students to choose which session to attend.  Technology can be another challenge when holding synchronous sessions. Faculty suggested offering material in multiple formats in order to meet the needs of students who may be having technological difficulties. For example, post slides in addition to video.

There are a variety of online tools that can be used to engage students online. Faculty in this session discussed the following:

  • Padlet – tool that allows students to collaborate synchronously or asynchronously
  • Loom – video recording application that allows students to create and send recordings
  • Flipgrid – video discussion board tool
  • Slack – communication platform used for information sharing, individual and group communication, synchronous and asynchronous collaboration (similar to Teams)

(Note: Instructors are encouraged to contact their school’s teaching and learning center before deciding to use third party tools that may or may not be supported by their institution.)

Jazzing Up Online Presentations: A panel of faculty representing the School of Education, the School of Medicine, and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences shared strategies for how to strengthen online presentations and keep students engaged. One idea is to maintain a balance between synchronous and asynchronous sessions to help avoid Zoom fatigue. Another idea is to keep sessions interactive by using breakout rooms, videos, knowledge checks, and other active learning techniques. Modeling online navigation for students is another way to help make sure they are staying engaged. For example, if referring to a particular discussion board post, share your screen with students and navigate to the post, read it with students, and discuss together. Consider using a different tool, other than PowerPoint, for your presentation, such as Genially or Sway. Lastly, don’t be afraid to put your personality into your presentation – pets and silly bow ties can make a difference to students!

Student Perspectives: A moderated panel of four students from across the institution shared their experiences with virtual learning this past semester. When asked what has been the most challenging aspect, several students mentioned Zoom fatigue. With the many hours of online lectures they were expected to attend, students reported that it was often difficult to stay engaged. Zoom fatigue also made it a challenge to participate in outside events or clubs since they are virtual as well. Other challenges: difficulty connecting and networking with people online and students living in different time zones.

When asked what techniques they wished more faculty were using, one student mentioned following best practices of online learning to ensure consistency across courses. Another student appreciated how one of her professors asked how students were doing at the beginning of each class. This was a small class, and the student acknowledged that it probably wouldn’t be possible in a larger setting, but that it helped to build community among class members. Another consideration mentioned is to build in breaks during the lecture. Other techniques suggested were the use of collaborative assignments, to help students keep each other accountable, and breakout rooms (in Zoom) with a structured task or purpose in mind.

Students were asked about the positive aspects of virtual learning. One student from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) explained how students from all three SAIS campuses were able to participate in all classes together, and how beneficial it was for students to experience the others’ perspectives. Another student found it extremely helpful that faculty would record their lectures and post them to Blackboard for unlimited viewing.  Students also greatly appreciated the creativity and support of their instructors and teaching assistants.

Other topics presented at the conference include: student wellness, assessment, accessibility, and more. The Provost’s office has made the full day of recorded sessions available here with JHED authentication.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Teaching Online: What Have We Learned?

On Friday, October 9, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted an online session, “Teaching Online: What Have We Learned?” where faculty were able to share and discuss best practices based on their experiences teaching online.  Mike Reese, director of the CER and faculty member in Sociology, and Allon Brann, teaching support specialist at the CER, moderated the discussion, structuring it with a few guiding questions as outlined below:

What is something you are doing differently this semester online that you will continue to do when you are back in the classroom?

Jamie Young from Chemistry described how he is using tools such as MS Teams and Slack to build classroom community. He anticipated students feeling isolated in an online environment, so he set up spaces for casual conversation for them to communicate and get to know one another. He said it has definitely encouraged and increased conversation among students. When asked how he motivates students to participate in these environments, Young responded that he made their participation a very small part of their grade. Young and his TAs make it a point to respond right away when students post to these spaces so that students know this is an active space and that they are being heard. This level of responsiveness has also helped boost participation. Back in the classroom, Young plans to continue using these tools for informal office hours.

Rachel Sangree from Civil and Systems Engineering shared that she has been holding evening office hours and what a difference it has made in the number of students who attend.  Acknowledging that it is sometimes exhausting, she stated that she sees more students now than ever before. When we’re back in the classroom, Sangree plans to continue to hold evening office hours, but perhaps not quite as late as she offers currently.

Alison Papadakis from Psychological and Brain Sciences described how she has adapted the “think pair share” active learning strategy to an online environment. Students are split into groups and assigned breakout rooms in Zoom, then use Google Sheets to record their ideas and notes while they’re in the rooms. This allows Papadakis to monitor the progress of students without having to manually drop in to each of the rooms. She is also able to add her own comments directly to the sheets in real time as students work on them. It was noted that separate tabs are created for each group in Google Sheets, so each group has its own space to work.  Initially Papadakis was concerned that students would feel like she was ‘spying’ on them and wouldn’t like this method, but so far the feedback has been positive.  Jamie Young shared a tutorial he put together on this topic: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uvRB38GHIKNaxQL-dN-9vpWgC43Yslssyz_jh2uPtno/edit

Francois Furstenberg from History shared how he is using the e-reader platform Perusall which allows students to collaboratively annotate their online readings. The annotations inform Furstenberg what parts of the readings students are finding interesting and are helping to shape the in-class discussions. He plans to continue using this platform when in-person classes resume. It was noted that instructors need to have copyright permission before uploading reading material to Perusall. If they have questions about obtaining copyright, they are encouraged to contact their university librarian.

David Kraemer from Mechanical Engineering mentioned that he mailed USB oscilloscope boards and a kit of devices to each of his students so they could perform “hands-on” experiments at home. He recognizes the value of these kits whether or not students are learning online, and plans to keep using them when in person classes resume.

Joshua Reiter from the Center for Leadership Education described how he adjusted his approach to assessments by breaking up large exams into more frequent quizzes throughout the semester.  Some of these quizzes were meant to be ‘fun’ quizzes for participation points, but he noticed that students were feeling pressured when taking them, defeating their purpose. Reiter changed them from individual to group quizzes, using the breakout room feature in Zoom.  Since then, he’s noticed a significant reduction in stress among the students.

 

What is something that you are still struggling with?

Several faculty members mentioned that their workload is significantly higher this semester as they do their best to recreate their lessons online.  Some feel like they are putting in three times the normal amount of preparation time and as a result, are experiencing technological overload, having to learn and keep up with so many tools. Many faculty mentioned that their students are feeling this way, too.  It was suggested that adding technology should be done in a purposeful way and that faculty should not feel compelled to use all of the available tools. Some faculty acknowledged that although it has been very challenging, they have learned a great deal about tools that are out there, and which ones seem to work better for students.

Similarly, a faculty member mentioned how difficult it is to multitask within the online environment; for example, keeping up with the chat window in Zoom while lecturing synchronously. Many faculty agreed, commenting that they feel pressured to keep up with everything going on and that it often feels like a performance. Someone commented that sharing concerns with the students helps to humanize the situation, while setting realistic expectations helps to take pressure off of instructors. One instructor mentioned how he purposely builds pauses into his lectures to allow himself time to catch up. Others mentioned that they use their TAs to monitor the chat window; if the instructor does not have a TA, he or she could ask a student.  Another general suggestion is to ask students what works best for them, instead of trying to monitor everything.

Academic integrity was another issue that came up. At least one instructor acknowledged multiple instances of students cheating since moving online, while others shared that they are concerned it may happen to them. A brief discussion followed, with instructors sharing strategies they use to try and mitigate cheating: using online monitoring tools, lowering weights of exams, making all exams open-book/open-note, and placing more emphasis on project-based work.

Some technical questions also came up, such as how to recreate an interactive whiteboard. The responses ranged from configuring Powerpoint in a certain way to using multiple devices. Jamie Young shared a tutorial he put together that uses Open Broadcaster Software (OBS): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JXptPGjnAOiqbpvrXJPGWDcbqE_l95C6Cm0moYpaelk/edit?usp=sharing  Faculty are welcome to contact the CER for help with this and other specific technological challenges.

Anything you would like to share with others?

A few faculty members shared how they are taking advantage of the online environment. Andrew Cherlin from Sociology mentioned how much easier it is to schedule outside guests, such as authors, since there are no travel arrangements, logistics, etc. to be worked out. He has had several guests this semester already. Cherlin also described how he has taken advantage of Zoom to meet with each student individually for about fifteen minutes to check in with them and make sure they are on track. He acknowledged that this is not practical for large courses, but it has been very beneficial to those in his seminar style course.

Lori Finkelstein from Museum Studies described how being online has reshaped her assignments. She usually has students go out into the field to different museums to conduct research. This semester, students are taking a look at what museums are offering virtually and whether or not they are successful, what seems to be working, what is not working, etc.

Lester Spence from Political Science is teaching a course with instructors from Goucher College and Towson University. Students from all three schools are collaborating together as they work on group projects, something that would not necessarily be possible in a face-to-face environment.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Building Community in an Online Course

Although a formal decision has yet to be made about the Fall 2020 semester here at Johns Hopkins, many instructors are beginning to prepare for the possibility of teaching online. Building community in an online course can be a challenge, especially if instructors are used to teaching in a face-to-face environment. The strategies below are meant to provide students with a sense of belonging, reduce feelings of isolation, and ultimately help keep them engaged throughout the course. 

Let students get to know you, take time to get to know them:

  • create a short video introducing yourself, including some personal details, not just academic credentials
  • convey enthusiasm for the course
  • create a survey asking students about themselves, their level of comfort with technology, what timezone they are in, etc.

Create opportunities for students to get to know each other:

  • use ice breaker activities: ‘introduce yourself’ discussion board forum, intro videos, etc. Relate the activity back to course content if possible (e.g,. “What is something innovative about your hometown?” used in an Urban Studies course.)
  • design activities that require student interaction: group work, peer review, etc.   

Create a safe and inclusive environment:

  • invite all voices to the room – listen to students, validate their points, and when possible, weave their examples into your lecture (Schmitt)
  • if possible, dedicate the first part of class to allow students to share challenges, coping strategies
  • if possible, hold some synchronous sessions to allow students to see each other
  • acknowledge and share your own struggles
  • remind students of the basic principles of netiquette when communicating online
  • facilitate a group discussion around setting ground rules and/or mutual expectations for dialogue and collaboration in class   

Communicate regularly/Be Present in the Course:

  • post daily/weekly announcements
  • send weekly email check-ins
  • remind learners about due dates, special events, share authentic news, share grading progress on assessments
  • encourage questions: set up a Q and A discussion board forum
  • make a commitment to respond promptly (daily, every other day) to student posts on discussion boards
  • consider using video in your communication with students at least some of the time, as they appreciate seeing and hearing directly from the instructor  

 

References: 

Schmitt, R. (2020, May 14). Fostering Online Student Success in the Face of COVID-19. The Scholarly Teacherhttps://www.scholarlyteacher.com/post/fostering-online-student-success-in-the-face-of-covid-19?fbclid=IwAR3v8lBQhOxT5fFU_q1HahnJVg6nCEvfGqeD_ZZHQ7gZHZkkH0LHuFGcX6g 

Amy Brusini
Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Quick Tips: Formative Assessment Strategies

Designing effective assessments is a critical part of the teaching and learning process. Instructors use assessments, ideally aligned with learning objectives, to measure student achievement and determine whether or not they are meeting the objectives. Assessments can also inform instructors if they should consider making changes to their instructional method or delivery.

Assessments are generally categorized as either summative or formative. Summative assessments, usually graded, are used to measure student comprehension of material at the end of an instructional unit. They are often cumulative, providing a means for instructors to see how well students are meeting certain standards. Instructors are largely familiar with summative assessments. Examples include:

  • Final exam at the end of the semester
  • Term paper due mid-semester
  • Final project at the end of a course

In contrast, formative assessments provide ongoing feedback to students in order to help identify gaps in their learning. They are lower stakes than summative assessments and often ungraded. Additionally, formative assessments help instructors determine the effectiveness of their teaching; instructors can then use this information to make adjustments to their instructional approach which may lead to improved student success (Boston). As discussed in a previous Innovative Instructor post about the value of formative assessments, when instructors provide formative feedback to students, they give students the tools to assess their own progress toward learning goals (Wilson). This empowers students to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and may help motivate them to improve their academic performance.

Examples of formative assessment strategies:

  • Surveys – Surveys can be given at the beginning, middle, and/or end of the semester.
  • Minute papers – Very short, in-class writing activity in which students summarize the main ideas of a lecture or class activity, usually at the end of class.
  • Polling – Students respond as a group to questions posed by the instructor using technology such as iclickers, software such as Poll Everywhere, or simply raising their hands.
  • Exit tickets – At the end of class, students respond to a short prompt given by the instructor usually having to do with that day’s lesson, such as, “What readings were most helpful to you in preparing for today’s lesson?”
  • Muddiest point – Students write down what they think was the most confusing or difficult part of a lesson.
  • Concept map – Students create a diagram of how concepts relate to each other.
  • First draft – Students submit a first draft of a paper, assignment, etc. and receive targeted feedback before submitting a final draft.
  • Student self-evaluation/reflection
  • Low/no-grade quizzes

Formative assessments do not have to take a lot of time to administer. They can be spontaneous, such as having an in-class question and answer session which provides results in real time, or they can be planned, such as giving a short, ungraded quiz used as a knowledge check. In either case, the goal is the same: to monitor student learning and guide instructors in future decision making regarding their instruction. Following best practices, instructors should strive to use a variety of both formative and summative assessments in order to meet the needs of all students.

References:

Boston, C. (2002). The Concept of Formative Assessment. College Park, MD: ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED470206).

Wilson, S. (February 13, 2014). The Characteristics of High-Quality Formative Assessments. The Innovative Instructor Blog. http://ii.library.jhu.edu/2014/02/13/the-characteristics-of-high-quality-formative-assessments/

Amy Brusini
Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Lunch and Learn: Accommodating Students with Disabilities

On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted the second Lunch and Learn for the 2019-2020 academic year: Accommodating Students with Disabilities.  This was a brainstorming session for faculty to share issues they’ve faced as well as ask questions about the accommodations process. Terri Massie-Burrell, Director of Student Disability Services at Homewood, and Cathie Axe, Executive Director for university-wide Student Disability Services facilitated.  The conversation was moderated by Alison Papadakis, Associate Teaching Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences.

Terri Massie-Burrell began the dialogue by giving an overview of the accommodations process.  She described how Student Disability Services (SDS) collaborates with campus partners to create an inclusive community for students with disabilities by proactively removing barriers, raising awareness of equitable practices, and fostering an appreciation of disability as an area of diversity. A step-by-step referral process for faculty is outlined on the SDS website. Massie-Burrell strongly encouraged any faculty that have questions about the process to contact her office. She also noted that accommodations are not retroactive; it is imperative that students contact SDS as early as possible to secure any accommodations they may need.

Massie-Burrell communicated that students may feel a stigma when registering with SDS. She said it is important to let students know we are all advocates for them and will protect their privacy. Sometimes faculty and students aren’t always satisfied with accommodations. SDS will do its best to resolve concerns and will meet students where they are with their disability.  Another point made is that it’s not the faculty’s responsibility to determine if students need an accommodation; the faculty’s role is to recommend students contact SDS and they will take it from there.

The discussion continued with questions and answers from the audience and facilitators, which are summarized below:

Q – What strategies have people used to initiate a conversation with students who may need accommodations?

Regarding students using equipment, one faculty member shared an example of how she attempts to normalize the situation by acknowledging that some people have difficulty with equipment and then lists possible solutions that may help. “Here’s how to deal with that…let’s talk about what’s best for you.” She feels this helps maintain student anonymity, so they are not singled out.

A faculty member who teaches freshmen remarked that her students are still developing and evolving academically and may not realize that they need assistance. She finds it helpful to contact the student’s advisor and the advisor then contacts SDS.

Other faculty members shared how they meet with students one on one to find out ways they can best help students keep up with the expectations of the course. They suggest SDS if necessary.

Q: Do accommodations last until a student graduates?

Massie-Burrell said that is possible, but they will review students’ needs each semester or each year to make any necessary adjustments.

Q: Do SDS staff come into spaces and make recommendations for improvement?

Cathie Axe responded that this is part of her role; she has been to several JHU campuses with facilities staff this past year in order to make suggestions during space renovations.  She said she would be happy to consult about making spaces more inclusive. They are currently taking a closer look at the pathways around the JHU campuses to identify and address gaps. She acknowledged the importance of accessible space when it comes to enhancing teaching.

Q: What types of things are you doing in your classes to reduce barriers?

Faculty members shared some strategies they are using: survey students before the semester begins, email all students individually to find out what their needs are, go through the syllabus with anyone with a disability, allow some flexibility with attendance and course deadlines, and reach out to students after the first exam/assessment to check in and listen to feedback. One faculty member suggested participating in ‘Safe Zone’ training, saying it’s another way of showing support for students, even though it’s not related to Disability Services.

Additionally, members of the CER staff mentioned the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an approach to teaching that removes barriers from the start by creating a flexible learning environment in order to meet the diverse needs of all learners.  Research behind this approach was done by the Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST). A Hopkins Universal Design for Learning (HUDL) initiative was recently started by the provost’s office; each Hopkins division has its own HUDL ambassador who will assist faculty with implementing UDL strategies in their classrooms and answer any questions related to UDL.

Q: A recurring challenge for me is that many disabilities are invisible. How can I address those students proactively?

Axe recommended that faculty tell students who they can contact if something isn’t going as well as they expect. She also suggested including syllabus statements, using broad invitations, and preparing TAs, since they have a great deal of contact with students.

Q: Is there a process for what should be shared with TAs?

Axe replied that it is difficult to standardize this process because it’s not always appropriate to share disabilities with TAs. Yet, in other situations it is necessary.  She indicated that SDS is in the process of putting information together about this topic for faculty. In the meantime, these situations are currently being handled on a case by case basis.

The discussion wrapped up with some general comments from faculty:

One faculty member has observed that students often feel like there is a tradeoff between taking an exam at SDS with their accommodations (e.g., reduced distraction, extra time) vs. being in the classroom where they can ask questions and hear any additional instructions or clarifications provided to the rest of the class. She reminded faculty members to be sure to communicate with SDS any errors or corrections to the exam that are communicated to the class. Additionally, if a TA is present, she suggested giving SDS the TA’s cell phone number so the TA can triage any calls from SDS while the instructor manages the exam room.

Another faculty member suggested that the accommodations process seems focused on undergraduates, potentially excluding faculty or graduate students with disabilities. Axe replied that the SDS office supports graduate students. The Office of Institutional Equity supports faculty with disabilities. They would be happy to provide more guidance on an individual basis if needed.

Several faculty members mentioned the need for training and inquired about packaging all of the information shared by SDS into a program that could serve as a training for everyone. Axe replied that SDS is in the process of developing additional faculty resources which will be shared with all departments.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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Advising Graduate Students

[Guest post by Anne-Elizabeth Brodsky, Senior Lecturer, Expository Writing, Johns Hopkins University]

Usually teaching offers us a built-in apparatus. There’s a classroom, regular meeting times, a syllabus, an end of the semester in sight.

But advising grad students on their dissertations, or supervising them as their PI, is an entirely different sort of teaching. The familiar structures have evaporated, the final product is hard to envision, and what’s at stake is not a grade but a career.

As faculty we do our best to get it right, knowing that each grad student and each research project differs wildly.

But it’s tricky, as Drew Daniel (JHU English department) reflects in an August 2018  blog post:

“Graduate advising is intimate and intense. . . . It is a partnership but it is also structurally, Drew Daniel, JHU English departmentfundamentally unequal. One of you is learning how to do something; one of you is advising the other on how to do that thing based on prior experience and presumed expertise. . . . The advisor must help the grad student bring something new into the world which is the student’s own and which the advisor does not themselves already completely understand.”

Given that the road ahead is unpredictable, the initial steps we take as faculty become all the more important. It’s crucial that we set up clear terms and reliable mechanisms that will buttress our students, come what may.

What Works

Consider, for example, creating an advising statement to share with prospective advisees. This can be a tangible, transparent way to set clear and mutual expectations in the advisor-advisee relationship. Read more about advising statements in the Chronicle here (October 2018), where Moin Syed (in psychology at the University of Minnesota) shares his advising statement as a google doc you can adapt as your own.

Leonard Cassuto, in the English department at Fordham, explains here (in the Chronicle December 2018) how he sets up dissertation writing groups. This approach structures not only the faculty-advisee relationship but also collegial relationships among grad students at different levels in the program.

Along similar lines, but in the context of lab sciences, Allison Antes (from the Center for Research and Clinical Ethics at Washington University School of Medicine) offers six key steps to strong faculty advising in a November 2018 Nature article. For instance:

Task one: put recurring one-on-one meetings with the members of your group on your calendar. Set up a notebook or spreadsheet and jot down anything you should bring up during these meetings. Set an alert for ten minutes before the appointment to decide how to approach the meeting. Does the team member need encouragement? Career guidance? Feedback on their project and direction for next steps? Are they behind on deadlines or lacking confidence?

Task two: invite people to share both complaints and highlights. Several exemplary scientists explicitly require their trainees to relate a concern or struggle at some point in one-on-one meetings. They want to help people to be comfortable enough to bring problems and mistakes to light, and so address issues early, while they are manageable.

Compass pointing to the word CareerFinally, in March 2019, four professors from across disciplines offer “Three research-based lessons to improve your mentoring:”

  1. Approach the power dynamic between mentor and mentee by invoking relevant research. Aspects of mentoring line up with aspects of parenting; to say this is not to infantilize students but rather to acknowledge the power difference as well as (often) the generational difference—and to avoid reinventing the wheel. Research shows the benefits of “authoritativeness, which is defined by both high expectations and high attentiveness; offering a safe haven in times of distress; and fostering a secure base to promote exploration.”
  2. Communicate your confidence in students’ abilities and potential. Again, from the research: “if students think their professors believe that only a few special people have intellectual potential, it can harm their sense of belonging and their performance.”
  3. Model a growth mindset, and “help mentees embrace failure as growth.” One of the authors, Jay J. Van Bavel, shares his unofficial bio alongside his formal one. Some faculty circulate failure CVs.

Where Hopkins Fits In

Here at Hopkins there has been significant conversation around how best to mentor graduate students, particularly since the publication of the National Academies of Science report on sexual and gender harassment in the sciences. In October of 2018, at a Women Faculty Forum event concerning the NAS report, participants (faculty, students, and staff) generated suggestions for how JHU could implement NAS’s recommendation #5: “Diffuse the hierarchical and dependent relationship between trainees and faculty.” You can read notes from that conversation here.

In November 2018, a faculty coffee hour focused solely on the faculty-trainee relationship at Hopkins produced these suggestions.

Meanwhile, there is a new PhD Student Advisory Committee, convened by Vice Provost for Graduate and Professional Education Nancy Kass. Mentorship, inclusivity, professional development, and grad student well-being are among the key topics discussed. From the Hub: “We get these amazing students, and we want them to be productive, and happy, and feel good about what they’re doing, and then be prepared to do really wonderful things afterwards,” Kass says.

As a result of this work, the Doctor of Philosophy Board just passed two new policies: The first requires PhD students and their advisors to have annual conversations about not only research progress but also professional development goals. The second requires each PhD-granting school to distribute our new mentoring guidance and to put in place at least two “supports”—such as workshops, training, mentoring mavens, mentoring awards, and so on.

Finally, Vice Provost Kass also assembled a university-wide PhD Program Directors Retreat in early May. The focus was on PhD professional development and preparedness for non-academic careers. Farouk Dey, Vice Provost for Integrative Learning and Life Design, was the keynote speaker. His overall message to faculty PhD program directors: “Try not to ask [students] ‘What do you want to do?’ Instead ask, ‘What has inspired you lately?’ ‘What action can you take to turn that inspiration into reality and how can I help you with that?’”

Anne-Elizabeth Brodsky, Senior Lecturer
Expository Writing, Johns Hopkins University

Anne-Elizabeth M. Brodsky has taught in the Expository Writing Program since 2007. In addition to teaching “Introduction to Expository Writing,” she has also taught courses on friendship, public education, and race in American literature. A former member of the JHU Diversity Leadership Council, Anne-Elizabeth now serves as co-chair of the Women Faculty Forum at Homewood.

Lunch and Learn: Strategies to Minimize Cheating (A Faculty Brainstorming Session)

On Wednesday, April 17, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted the final Lunch and Learn for the 2018-2019 academic year: Strategies to Minimize Cheating (A Faculty Brainstorming Session).  As the title suggests, the format of this event was slightly different than past Lunch and Learns. Faculty attendees openly discussed their experiences with cheating as well as possible solutions to the problem. The conversation was moderated by James Spicer, Professor, Materials Science and Engineering, and Dana Broadnax, Director of Student Conduct.

The discussion began with attendees sharing examples of academic misconduct they identified. The results included: copying homework, problem solutions, and lab reports; using other students’ clickers; working together on take-home exams; plagiarizing material from Wikipedia (or other sites); and using online solution guides (such as chegg.com, coursehero.com, etc.).

Broadnax presented data from the Office of the Dean of Student Life regarding the numbers of cheating incidents per school, types of violations, and outcomes. She stressed to faculty members how important it is to report incidents to help her staff identify patterns and repeat offenders. If it’s a student’s first offense, faculty are allowed to determine outcomes that do not result in failure of the course, transcript notation, or change to student status. Options include: assigning a zero to the assessment, offering a retake of the assessment, lowering the course grade, or giving a formal warning.  A student’s second or subsequent offense must be adjudicated by a hearing panel (Section D – https://studentaffairs.jhu.edu/policies-guidelines/undergrad-ethics/).

Some faculty shared their reluctance to report misconduct because of the time required to submit a report. Someone else remarked that when reporting, she felt like a prosecutor.  As a longtime ethics board member, Spicer acknowledged the burdens of reporting but stressed the importance of reporting incidents. He also shared that faculty do not act as prosecutors at a hearing. They only provide evidence for the hearing panel to consider. Broadnax agreed and expressed interest in finding ways to help make the process easier for faculty. She encouraged faculty to share more of their experiences with her.

The discussion continued with faculty sharing ideas and strategies they’ve used to help reduce incidents of cheating. A summary follows:

  • Do not assume that students know what is considered cheating. Communicate clearly what is acceptable/not acceptable for group work, independent work, etc. Clearly state on your syllabus or assignment instructions what is considered a violation.
  • Let students know that you are serious about this issue. Some faculty reported their first assignment of the semester requires students to review the ethics board website and answer questions. If you serve or have served on the ethics board, let students know.
  • Include an ethics statement at the beginning of assignment instructions rather than at the end. Research suggests that signing ethics statements placed at the beginning of tax forms rather than at the end reduces dishonest reporting.
  • Do not let ‘low levels’ of dishonesty go without following University protocol – small infractions may lead to more serious ones. The message needs to be that no level of dishonesty is acceptable.
  • Create multiple opportunities for students to submit writing samples (example: submit weekly class notes to Blackboard) so you can get to know their writing styles and recognize possible instances of plagiarism.
  • Plagiarism detection software, such as Turnitin, can be used to flag possible misconduct, but can also be used as an instructional tool to help students recognize when they are unintentionally plagiarizing.
  • Emphasize the point of doing assignments: to learn new material and gain valuable critical thinking skills. Take the time to personally discuss assignments and paper topics with students so they know you are taking their work seriously.
  • If using clickers, send a TA to the back of the classroom to monitor clicker usage. Pay close attention to attendance so you can recognize if a clicker score appears for an absent student.
  • Ban the use of electronic devices during exams if possible. Be aware that Apple Watches can be consulted.
  • Create and hand out multiple versions of exams, but don’t tell students there are different versions. Try not to re-use exam questions.
  • Check restrooms before or during exams to make sure information is not posted.
  • Ask students to move to different seats (such as the front row) if you suspect they are cheating during an exam. If a student becomes defensive, tell him/her that you don’t know for sure whether or not cheating has occurred, but that you would like him/her to move anyway.
  • Make your Blackboard site ‘unavailable’ during exams; turn it back on after everyone has completed the exam.
  • To discourage students from faking illness on exam days, only offer make-ups as oral exams. One faculty member shared this policy significantly reduced the number of make-ups due to illness in his class.

Several faculty noted the high-stress culture among JHU students and how it may play a part in driving them to cheat. Many agreed that in order to resolve this, we need to create an environment where students don’t feel the pressure to cheat. One suggestion was to avoid curving grades in a way that puts students in competition with each other.  Another suggestion was to offer more pass/fail classes. This was met with some resistance as faculty considered the rigor required by courses students need to get into medical school. Yet another suggestion was to encourage students to consult with their instructor if they feel the temptation to cheat. The instructor can help address the problem by considering different ways of handling the situation, including offering alternative assessments when appropriate. Broadnax acknowledged the stress, pressure, and competition among students, but also noted that these are not excuses to cheat: “Our students are better served by learning to best navigate those factors and still maintain a standard of excellence.”

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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