Inclusive Assessing: Are All Students Able to Demonstrate What They Know?
Inclusive teaching is at the forefront of many discussions among educators in public schools as well as higher educational institutions. And while these discussions can be challenging in some arenas, I believe that teachers would agree their highest achievement is their students’ learning, mastering the course content and applying their new knowledge to their future goals. Success as a teacher equals the highest percentage of students possible demonstrating their course competency throughout the course in formative assessments and at the end of the term with summative assessments of their mastery.
However, often overlooked in discussions of DE&I are ideas about equitable assessment types. For me, the question is: Am I offering assessments that truly give opportunities for my diverse group of students to demonstrate what they know or have learned? Or am I just relying on my older methods of testing that leave some of my students without a way to show me they really know the material? Am I just asking the wrong questions, or asking them in a way that is confusing or challenging to some groups of students?
I have become aware that there is a huge gap between asking my students to parrot back the course content on a multiple-choice test and truly assessing their mastery of that content. Can they apply that content? Are they able to reason with this new information at the highest level of learning? Have I given them the opportunity to reach the peak of Bloom’s Taxonomy?
We survived teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic, teaching in the early days post-pandemic, and this year we thought we would be returning to some new normal in our classrooms.
But wait, there are new (and not so new) mine fields I’m expected to navigate?!
Political climates influencing what and how we teach??
Continuing updates to accessibility??
Commitments to inclusive teaching??
I feel a weariness creeping in as I struggle to stay enthusiastic about this new school year. So, I sought solace from like-minded educators and sources to help renew my excitement and confidence about stepping into the limelight with a whole new, unknown group of students.
I believe the end of the Spring Term for most higher education instructors is when we are on our last nerve.
We have survived Fall with all the newbies, both colleagues and students. We’ve participated in all the required, seemingly endless, often less than engaging in-services, including one more course on cyber security. We’ve attended all required faculty meetings and served on committees ranging from book selections to searches for new faculty. We’ve updated courses, copied courses, and graded all the work in those courses. As instructors we responded to students’ extra needs ranging from academic mentoring to providing referrals for students struggling with work, home, school, illness, and financial losses. We’ve done this without wavering, well almost without, for 9 months and that summer vacation is within sight.
But wait, in these last few weeks before we reach that holy grail of vacation time, we will wrap up the year with departmental reports, assessments by our accrediting bodies, and institutional reviews. On top of all of that, instructors are bombarded with end of term student pleas to give them extra credit so they can pass. And if they don’t pass, they tell us it’s all our fault their futures will be bleak.
Stress, who’s stressed???? I was, and often still am. I need something to take my frustrations and irritations down a notch, so I can make it down the home stretch without saying something to anyone I would later regret. I turn to purposeful living and the practice of staying in the moment by focusing on the tangibles of the five senses. Let me share a few suggestions you can take as a jumping off point, don’t take that literally, and then make these sensory grounding moments your own.
Classic studies have revealed how important human touch is for us to thrive. Yet, Covid and a desire to be appropriate with others in all ways may have curtailed our natural impulses to give someone a hug, a squeeze of the hand, or a pat on the back. However, there are many ways to use touch as a safe focus point if interpersonal touch is unavailable. I have found great comfort in kneading dough, digging in the dirt in my garden, or immersing myself in a pool. Skin is the organ of touch, and we all have lots of skin. So, arms, legs, fingers, and toes all count and help us focus our attention on the amazing feeling of something like wriggling our toes in the sands at the edge of a body of water.
Beyond hearing your colleagues out, take a few moments to stop the noise and really listen. Don’t just hear, listen! Wherever you are, there is life happening around you with all its remarkable cacophony. Single out each sound, identify it, and then keep singling out and identifying. Don’t judge the sounds as good or bad, just life happening outside of your head. Write each down. You’ll be surprised by the lack of the worry noise that was in your head a few minutes earlier.
If you don’t have the time to take in a museum, my personal recommendation, or you aren’t near a beach to watch the ocean waves, look around your space. What have you chosen to decorate your environment? Do those things bring joy when you look at them? If not, you might choose to redecorate a bit. Or you might add a flower in a vase to that otherwise over-populated desktop. Deliberately look at something that brings up good feelings. It might be as simple as the tree outside, or the color of the sky. Really think about what you are seeing and take the time to notice all the details. And then, write these down.
Concentrating on smell stimulates many regions of the brain. Smell is one of the most powerful and evocative of our senses. Memories flow freely when we focus on the scents around us. There’s a very good reason fortunes are being made with aromatherapy. Essential oils offer a quick fix for many symptoms of stress like headaches. A diffuser in the area where you encounter the most stress may alleviate some symptoms. And, if a diffuser won’t work where the stress lives, rub a little oil on your wrist for a little unobtrusive sniffing when you feel the tide of irritations rising. Also, just noticing the smells around you can transport you to other times and other places where you encountered similar scents.
Last, but certainly not least, this one bears some self-restraint. Once started, you need to be alert to comfort eating that may result in more of you than you wish. I really try to have a good meal with colleagues as often as possible during the final days of school. Potlucks are even better. Everyone has to eat lunch at some point, so arrange an end of the term potluck to savor and relish each other’s offerings. Talk about the flavors, seasonings, and what each reminds you of. Share your memories over a shared meal. Some of my happiest memories of teaching involve our faculty lounge, the whiteboard with signups and snarky comments. In addition, consider the community and collegiality of being on the same ship bailing for all we’re worth to get to that vacation.
So, take these suggestions and truly make them the moments of your choosing. Moments focused on good tangible sensory stimulation lead to minutes, which lead to hours and days to weeks to months to years. And voila! Your life has been populated with many moments that you counted and turned into moments that mattered. CAUTION!!! Once you start this habit of being in the moments of your life using your senses, you may never come back to the mundane world of endless invasive and worrisome thinking.
Preventing cheating is a challenge we all face today given not only students’ ingenuity, but also the available student tools on the internet that publish tests and answers from many, many courses. And now there is . . .ChatGPT!!!
Although it may be difficult to prevent cheating entirely, there are steps that can be implemented, reducing the impact of cheating for the student learning assessment process for online courses.
I’d like to share with you the practical tips I found from Northern Illinois’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. These tips may help reduce cheating for the two most common uses of online learning assessments, which are testing and homework assignments.
Tips for testing – using learning management systems
Purposefully select assessment methods
Use online objective tests like multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false are best implemented for lower stakes assessing student learning. In fact, these types of quizzes are often best used as student self-checks in preparation for higher stakes assessments.
When assessing student mastery of course goals and objectives, objective tests may not be the best option considered among a range of methods. While an objective test can measure a student’s ability to recall or organize information, other methods are far preferable for assessing the higher order/critical thinking skills including understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
Mix objective and subjective questions
Online testing using multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false, fill in the blank might be a part of a summative assessment of mastery that also includes short answer or essay questions.
These types of questions are more subjective in nature and demand a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Consider questions that allow students to demonstrate higher order thinking skills with the application of principles learned for unique situations. While mixing objective and subjective questions does not stop information sharing, it can limit the impact on the student’s final grade.
Create your own question pools
Rather than using a fixed number of items that remain unchanged for each administration of the test, consider creating a question pool using any institution’s learning management tools.
Group questions by any number of criteria including topic, subject matter, question type or difficulty of the question. I would also suggest grouping questions according to the learning outcome associated with the question.
A pool will generate an assessment with randomized questions selected by the faculty member. Pools can be created from new questions or those in existing tests or pools. Pools are most effective when there are large numbers of questions in one particular group. For example, one might have a pool of true/false questions, another of multiple choice and a third for fill in the blank.
You might create an assessment drawing a specific number of questions from each of those pool categories. Faculty can also add new questions to pools each time the course is taught to expand the variability of questions. Conversely, older questions can be removed.
When creating a test using a learning management system, you are often given the option to randomize the selection of test questions as well as the order in which they appear. The benefit is that students are unlikely to get the same questions in the same sequence when taking a test.
This strategy addresses the issue of students who take a test at the same time in order to share answers. This is also relevant if faculty allows students to repeat the test. Each time this occurs, a test will be made up of questions that are randomly selected and ordered.
When possible, you should limit what types of feedback are displayed to students upon completion of a test. Providing test scores is important feedback that indicates how well students have performed and should be made available. However, through a process of elimination, students may be able to determine the correct answer for each test question if their submitted answers are identified as incorrect. Or if the correct answer is provided.
Students could lose the incentive to both prepare for testing or to seek correct answers by reviewing lecture notes, assigned readings, or through a group discussion after completing tests. Thus, faculty might reconsider whether to include ‘Submitted Answers’ as an option to be displayed to students.
This is especially relevant if faculty have allowed students to repeat tests. Each time a test was taken, students could attempt a different answer for a test question that was previously graded as incorrect. Correct answers to all test questions could eventually be accumulated and passed on to other students, or to students of future classes. Or answers could be posted to some online site where students can access exams from a vast number of courses and subjects.
We have to recognize that students taking an unproctored exam are free to use open book/notes. So you might decide to use time limits if allowed in the learning management system. Students who adequately prepared for a test may well be less likely to rely on open book/notes compared with students unprepared for testing. By setting a test with an expected completion time, unprepared students could have the most to lose as they spend time going over material, and risk not having sufficient time to respond to all the test questions.
Display questions one-at-a-time
If a test has more than 5 questions, do not choose the ‘All at Once’ option for displaying all the questions on the same screen. It is quite easy for students to take a screen capture of the displayed questions and share them with other students. While students can still screen capture pages with single questions, or even type them into a document, it is more time consuming and unwieldy.
Tips for homework assignments: assessing student progress and mastery
Create application assignments
Create assignments that require students to apply essential course concepts to a relevant problem. This encourages students to seek relevant information beyond the assigned readings and lectures and conduct independent research by identifying credible sources to support the development of their assignments.
Students can be required to report their progress on a regular basis through email, or through the journaling assignments offered in any Revel titles. This documentation makes it easier for faculty to see the development of a student’s work from inception to completion. In addition, it may possibly identify unexplained gaps that could occur if students used the work of others and claimed it as their own.
Faculty can add input at any point in this process to provide guidance, and perhaps suggest new directions for students. Both documentation of progress through regular status reporting and occasional faculty input can add a greater level of scrutiny to students. This can make it more difficult to pass off the work of others as their own. I use this method in my psychology courses by using my learning management system’s Discussion Forums. I require responses that use proper APA and documentation as well as student to student comments.
Create group assignments
Create group assignments that require students to interact with group members regularly. Groups can be made responsible for determining the functional roles for each member, establishing a mechanism for accountability (i.e., submitting weekly progress reports), and sharing drafts of individual progress on a group project. For a project to be truly collaborative, each group member should be familiar with everyone else’s work, and be able to describe how every group members’ contribution supports the whole group assignment.
Students who are using the work of others may not be able to adequately describe the significance of their ‘own’ work, or how it contributes to the group’s overall project. Group projects for me have been improved with online students using the Revel tool, Shared Media. I’m able to group students and have them submit a shared document or recording for evaluation.
Create assignments that require presentations
Conduct asynchronous online assignments for class presentations. This is easily accomplished with the same Shared Media tool in Revel. I have been using this video upload tool for over 13 years with my public speaking students.
Students may be asked to submit a progress report or use a Journal to reflect on what they have learned in the past week that supports work toward the presentation. You might consider using a discussion forum for these progress reports where classmates can contribute to one another.
To further scrutinize work on the presentation, students may be asked to include time for questions and answers. Students who have developed the presentation should be comfortable answering a range of topic-related questions from an arranged audience. I required my speech students to have an audience of 7 adults and include a Q&A that is captured on video as well as their speech presentation.
Check for plagiarism using SafeAssign
SafeAssign is a remarkable plagiarism prevention tool that detects matches between students’ submitted assignments and existing works by others. These works are found on a number of databases including ProQuest ABI/Inform, Institutional document archives, the Global Reference Database, as well as a comprehensive index of documents available for public access on the internet.
SafeAssign can also be used to help students identify how to attribute sources properly rather than paraphrase without citing the original source. Thus, the SafeAssign feature is impressive and effective as both a deterrent and an educational tool.
Using any of the Writing Assignments in the Revel tool can have this Safe Assign evaluate any submission for plagiarism.
Use discussion assignments
Creating Discussion Board assignments require students to demonstrate critical thinking skills by responding to a relevant forum topic.
You may also design a rubric that is specific to the Discussion Board assignment and develop questions that require students to respond to every rubric category.
Having assignments that are very specific makes it more difficult for students to use portions of a previous term paper or other sources.
Include academic integrity policy statement in the course syllabus
As faculty we need to include a policy statement regarding academic integrity in the course syllabus.
In addition, reiterate academic policies for students taking an online course and clarifying guidelines for completing tests and assignments so that students are not confused about what they can and cannot do.
While this, in and of itself, may not be sufficient to change behavior, its acknowledged presence in the syllabus acknowledges a commitment to honesty in the academic arena. It also establishes the clear expectation that academic integrity is an important principle to live by.
Faculty may also choose to mention this policy using the ‘Announcements’ feature in any of your learning management systems, or while conducting a live web conference session.
Preserving academic integrity is an ongoing challenge for traditional face-to-face, blended, and courses that are entirely online. While a number of expensive technology solutions, such as retinal eye scanners and live video monitoring have been developed to prevent cheating in online courses, the practical recommendations above can reduce the impact of cheating on assessing student performance online.
Revel for Political Science/History/Sociology/Psychology also won the CODiE Award for “Best Social Sciences/Studies Instructional Solution,” which recognizes the best instructional solution for social sciences/social studies curricula and content for students in the higher education or PK-12 markets.
In addition, we were a finalist for the following award.
NCCERConnect was a finalist for the CODiE Award for “Best College & Career Readiness Solution,” which recognizes the best digital product or service that develops 21st Century workforce skills and knowledge for students.
The CODiE Awards were established so that pioneers of the budding software industry could evaluate and honor each other’s work. Today, the Awards continue to honor excellence in leading technology products and services. At Pearson, we've been creating innovative learning experiences since the Awards began in 1986, and our latest award-winning instructional solutions are evidence that we’re never satisfied with the status quo. Keep reading to learn more about what makes them unique.
What is MyLab?
MyLab Math and MyLab Statistics use data-driven guidance to improve results for students, with engaging, interactive content by expert authors that better helps them absorb and understand difficult concepts from developmental math to differential equations.
MyLab gives instructors a comprehensive gradebook with enhanced reporting functionality that makes it easier for instructors to understand which students are struggling, and which topics they struggle with most.
We were team-teaching Intro Psychology in March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US and suddenly shut down everything, including our campus. As we shifted to remote instruction, we stumbled upon a format that seemed to work well for our class. We started each recorded lecture with a quick check-in, asking each other simple questions like, “Are you doing OK with all this?” and “How are you coping?”
This wasn’t part of some grand pedagogical plan. Rather, it was invention born from necessity. It was an instinctual human reaction to unprecedented circumstances. Our students kept emailing to say they really appreciated these informal and personal moments, which humanized the lectures, normalized their own responses to the crisis, and helped bridge the newfound physical distance between them and us. It seemed to be what they needed at that point in time. And we soon came to realize that we probably needed it as much as they did.
Elizabeth Redden’s July 13 article outlines the mental health costs and needs of college students during the crisis. Over the past several months, we’ve seen a lot of this firsthand with our classes (admittedly via email and Zoom). And, while neither of us are trained as clinicians, we do believe that the psychological science that we teach has lessons to offer our students in their daily efforts to navigate this crisis.
That was our motivation in putting together a new course this summer (to be repeated this fall), titled The Science of Coping. In the course, we’re combining discussion, guest speakers, and mini-lectures to cover a range of topics including:
using critical thinking to assess new research findings and public health recommendations
how stress affects the body and how mindfulness can help
the importance of social connection
how sleep, nutrition, and exercise influence the immune system
the psychology of conspiracy theories
control and emotional regulation
how to use social norms to change health attitudes and behaviors
the effectiveness of telehealth and remote therapy
bias and prejudice during times of threat
strategies for remote learning and managing distractions
The major assignment of the semester requires students to keep a coping journal. Each week they have to select one potential coping strategy, implement it, and then take a critical look back at what worked and what didn’t. Our hope is that the course provides students with academic and intellectual insight into the scientific literature on these topics, but also that it provides them with some concrete strategies that they can take for a test run and possibly incorporate into their daily lives moving forward.
There’s a selfish component in all of this for us as well. Instructors also need something good to focus on during a crisis. Has preparing a new course this summer been stressful? Absolutely. But it has also been a welcome distraction and something productive to focus on while much of the ground we all stand on becomes increasingly unstable.
We teamed up with researchers from Nesta and the Oxford Martin School to understand the top skills that every student will need to flourish in their careers — learning strategies, psychology, instructing, social perceptiveness, and sociology and anthropology. See how leaders throughout history have best exemplified these skills while making an impact on our lives through their actions, ideals, and messages — whether we knew it or not.
Learning Strategies: Fred Rogers
On May 9, 1969, during an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers asked black police officer, Officer Clemmons, to cool his feet in his wading pool. At first, Clemmons declined, saying he didn’t have a towel, but Rogers offered his. This small act broke the color barrier that existed at the time as racial tensions were rising. By sharing both the water and the towel, the men exposed the bigotry of not allowing black people access to pools and other establishments.
In 2018, Clemmons said, “It was a definite call to social action on Fred’s part. That was his way of speaking about race relations in America.” This small act is just one example of the messages of love, kindness, and acceptance that Rogers taught children (and adults), while at the same time sending a much larger message to the public via media. 1
Psychology: Dr. Joyce Brothers
During the 1960’s, sexual satisfaction and menopause were considered taboo subjects for television and radio, but Dr. Joyce Brothers knew they were front and center in women’s minds. As a result, she started her television show, where she gave out psychological advice on relationships, family, sexuality, and self-empowerment, while also answering audience questions.
Brothers created the “The Brothers System,” which stresses that if a woman is self-loving and takes care of her own needs, then she will be able to better care for her husband and family. She also encouraged equal relationships that allow for wives to ask their husbands for what they need to be personally satisfied in a marriage. 2
Instructing: Anne Sullivan
When Anne Sullivan was only 20 years old, she helped Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, make associations between words and physical objects. Sullivan finger-spelled the word “water” on Keller’s hand as she ran water over her other hand. Keller made a major breakthrough, connecting the concept of sign language with the objects around her. With Sullivan’s help, Keller was able to learn almost 600 words, most of the multiplication tables, and how to read Braille in only a few months. 3
Social Perceptiveness: Nelson Mandela
During the 1950s Steve Bloom’s parents, who were anti-apartheid activists, knew Nelson Mandela. They told their son the story of the time Mandela saw a white woman stranded with her broken car in Johannesburg. He stopped and offered his help. After he was able to fix her car, she thanked him by offering a sixpence. He declined, saying he was just happy to help. She asked why a black man would help her if it wasn’t for the money. “Because you were stranded at the side of the road,” he replied. Mandela’s life as an anti-apartheid activist, politician and philanthropist was full of moments of kindness, humility, and courage like this one. 4
Sociology & Anthropology: Dr. Jane Goodall
While studying chimpanzees in Tanzania in 1960, Jane Goodall saw a large male chimpanzee take a twig, bend it, strip it of its leaves, stick it into the nest, and spoon termites into his mouth. This was the first time any creature, besides a human, was seen making and using a tool.
“It was hard for me to believe,” she recalls. “At that time, it was thought that humans, and only humans, used and made tools. I had been told from school onwards that the best definition of a human being was man the tool-maker — yet I had just watched a chimp tool-maker in action.”
As her work continued, Goodall found that chimpanzees (our nearest evolutionary cousins) also embraced, hugged, and kissed each other, as well as experienced adolescence, developed powerful mother-and-child bonds, and used political chicanery to get what they wanted. It is thanks to Goodall and her work that we now know the many similarities between humans and chimps and have much greater knowledge of chimpanzee behavior. 5