Learner-Centered Teaching in Higher Education: Formative Assessment Study Turns Classroom into Research Lab Assessment is a hot topic in academic programs around the country, as accrediting agencies place greater emphasis on assessment techniques that demonstrate that learning is actually taking place. During my nine-year tenure as dean at three different institutions, I insisted that faculty include learning outcomes in their course syllabuses and ... Academic Edge
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Academic Edge  |   April 01, 2007
Learner-Centered Teaching in Higher Education: Formative Assessment Study Turns Classroom into Research Lab
Author Notes
  • Karen F. Steckol, is professor, chair, and clinic director in the Department of Communicative Disorders at the University of Alabama. Contact her at ksteckol@bama.ua.edu.
    Karen F. Steckol, is professor, chair, and clinic director in the Department of Communicative Disorders at the University of Alabama. Contact her at ksteckol@bama.ua.edu.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Academic Edge
Academic Edge   |   April 01, 2007
Learner-Centered Teaching in Higher Education: Formative Assessment Study Turns Classroom into Research Lab
The ASHA Leader, April 2007, Vol. 12, 14-15. doi:10.1044/leader.AE2.12052007.14
The ASHA Leader, April 2007, Vol. 12, 14-15. doi:10.1044/leader.AE2.12052007.14
Assessment is a hot topic in academic programs around the country, as accrediting agencies place greater emphasis on assessment techniques that demonstrate that learning is actually taking place. During my nine-year tenure as dean at three different institutions, I insisted that faculty include learning outcomes in their course syllabuses and use learner-centered teaching techniques (Weimer, 2002) including formative and summative assessment.
Instead of lecturing and testing, faculty members were asked to use teaching techniques that place greater emphasis on the student’s ability to learn, retain, and apply the material. For example, the faculty might use a formative assessment technique such as a research paper, in which the student creates multiple drafts, following ongoing feedback from faculty. The agreed-upon final paper would be considered the summative assessment.
After returning to a faculty position at the University of Alabama, I began research on formative assessment, supported by a college grant for research on assessment and pedagogy. I wanted to know how to adjust my teaching techniques to ensure that teaching goals and objectives were met and that learning took place (Black & Wiliam, 1998).
Pilot Study
My first experience using formative and summative assessment was in an introductory communicative disorders class. The 35-student class included a full range of levels, from first-year students to graduating seniors. Some students in the class were majoring in communicative disorders, while others were taking the class as an elective.
I used a variety of formative assessment techniques throughout the semester to assess learning and provide immediate feedback to students on their understanding of the subject matter. Assessments began on the first day of class with a 10-question pretest that was repeated immediately before the final. Throughout the term, 10 quizzes were given, with feedback provided immediately after the quiz.
During the class immediately prior to each major test, the class was divided into small groups and instructed to create five questions they thought should be on the exam. The questions and answers were discussed to assess the students’ understanding of class content. Half of the actual test questions were taken from those developed by the students. Students who thought they missed an instructor-developed question on the test could answer the question at home and bring the answer(s) to the next class meeting. If the answer was correct on the second try, the student earned half credit. This process was designed to help students focus on learning the information presented, rather than memorizing material and repeating it back during the test. This procedure ensured a score of at least 75% on any test—yet some of the undergraduates still failed the test and the class.
Student responses were very positive, encouraging me to continue to use these methodologies. The following semester I taught two graduate-level classes on fluency and research design—with the same students in each class—offering an opportunity to turn the classroom into a research lab in an investigation of how formative assessment affects student learning.
I designed a study in which half of each class was the experimental group and half served as the control and vice versa. I used the same assessment techniques from the prior semester, with the following exceptions: five quizzes were given rather than 10; only the experimental groups were allowed to write exam questions; and the experimental students wrote one-minute notes at the end of each class describing something they did not know or the most salient point learned. Their comments were discussed during the following class period to further the learner-centered process. All exams were graded by an advanced graduate student using an instructor’s key, and code names were used on all papers to ensure anonymity. A month after the final, all students took the exam again to determine how much of the class content was retained.
The Classroom as Research Lab
The preliminary research findings are intriguing. As might be expected of graduate classes, all students earned a grade of A or B, so grades could not be used to differentiate between the learners.
Learning did take place, as measured by two distinctly different methods. On the pretest and post-test, all students increased their scores significantly. The fluency class pretest scores ranged from 0.5–5.5; post-test scores ranged from 5–9. The research design pretest scores ranged from 0–4.5; post-test scores ranged from 5–10.
All students scored worse on the one-month post-final exam in both classes. There was no significant difference between the scores of the experimental and control groups on the fluency final and final retest. There was, however, a significant difference between the experimental and control group scores for the research design class on the final and final retest. In this class, the experimental group scored lower on the second final than on the first, but significantly higher than the control group. It is interesting to note that all students in the fluency experimental group would have liked to be in the research class experimental group, as they judged the research design class to be much more difficult and thought extra assessment would have been helpful.
Both classes, though, exhibited a substantial gap in retention of information one month later. It is encouraging, however, that formative assessment helped reduce the gap significantly in the research design class.
Graduate students are generally more homogeneous than undergraduate students. But even so, courses perceived by students as “more difficult” may benefit from the application of formative assessment to enhance learning and retention as we move toward the goal of true learner-centered teaching.
References
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139–148. Retrieved from www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kbla9810.htm.
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139–148. Retrieved from www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kbla9810.htm.×
Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.×
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April 2007
Volume 12, Issue 5