Assessing Student Learning
Mentored Teaching Project
Here is a link to the complete research report that includes a more detailed description of the types of assessment, the artifacts used, rationale for the artifacts, and an interpretation/discussion of the results of the project.
Below is a condensed version of the project.
In large lecture courses where upwards of 300 students are in attendance, instructors may find it difficult to find assessments that are a) adequate assessors of student knowledge, b) reasonable to grade with the available teaching team (e.g., professor, teaching assistants, etc.). Of course as instructors we all want what is best for our students, but it unrealistic to ask one person to give 300 students comprehensive feedback on weekly assignments while also lesson planning, fulfilling research requirements, and attending to other departmental or job-related roles. Even with teaching assistants, weekly assignments tend to take a long time to grade, and usually make up a majority of that person’s role.
I was a TA for COM 225 – An Introduction to Interpersonal Communication for two consecutive semesters (fall 2019 and spring 2020). Each week in COM 225, students are asked to write a 1-page reflection paper (Communication in the Real World), that applies the topics discussed in class to their own lives. Specific questions and topics are provided for students to reflect upon. The first semester, I noticed that students were not using correct APA formatting which led to many missed points on the weekly assignments. Students were changing the margins, using different fonts and font sizes, and using random paragraph spacing in their assignments. Sometimes this was to meet a page requirement, while other times it was simply a misunderstanding of proper formatting. These consistent mistakes were easy to spot when grading 200-300 student assignments.
In order to increase student grades and make grading easier for myself and future TAs, I developed an APA template. This template provided students with an example of the formatting expected in their weekly assignments. I expected that having a template would increase student grades because they would adhere more closely to APA formatting requirements and thus would not lose points. I created the following learning goal for my students: Students will write thoughtful one-page reflections that meet all the assignment criteria, specifically APA formatting. This also meant I had a teaching goal set for the instructors of the course: Instructors will provide opportunities for students to practice using APA in weekly activities.
Two learning objectives were set for students in order to meet the learning goal. 1) Utilize the assignment template in order to meet formatting and length expectations (APA, minimum of 1 page), and 2) Engage with each week’s prompt to write a thoughtful reflection that correctly addresses that week’s topic.
In order to achieve the learning goals and objectives. I asked several teaching questions. For the students I asked: When provided with an APA template, will students be able to correctly write in APA and meet page length requirements for all one-page writing assignments throughout the semester? For the instructors I asked: When students are provided with an APA template, will grading become more consistent and efficient?
The next semester (spring 2020), the APA template was implemented into COM 225. At the end of the semester, grades from both semesters were compared. The spring offering of COM 225 has a much larger class size; therefore, two TAs are needed. I interviewed the other TA about their experiences using the template.
There was a significant difference between the fall 2019 (M=8.44, SD=1.7) and spring 2020 (M=8.12, SD=2.05) semesters (t(638) = 1.99, p = .007). Grades decreased after implementing the APA template. However, TA experiences seemed to improve with the addition of the template. TAs found more consistency with the students and it was easier to justify a reduction in points when students did not adhere to the template.
COVID-19 is an important consideration regarding the results of this teaching project. All courses moved to an online format during the spring 2020 semester. Additionally, many instructors and teaching assistants were more flexible with deadlines and more lenient with grading due to COVID-19 and surrounding events. This likely had a large effect on the grading of the assignments in COM 225. In order to understand the potential impact of COVID-19 on this project, a post-hoc test comparing only scores from the first half of the semester was conducted. An independent sample t-test with this sample still provided significant results (t(637) = 2.64, p = .034). There was a significant decrease in scores from the fall 2019 (M=8.78, SD=1.74) and spring 2020 (M=8.35, SD=2.12) semesters. However, the difference between the fall and semester scores was smaller than when comparing the entire semester.
Below are the files used in the mentored teaching project: