Assessments and Feedback — Oh My!

Assessments and feedback are my least favorite part of teaching a course. It’s hard to objectively measure “student learning” when I am attempting to focus on how far they have come, an appropriate pedagogy for all (including oppressed peoples), and meeting the standards of my program. Some students work really hard and show a lot of growth and demonstrate the capacity for “A” thinking even if their work is not quite “A” level work (as Enoch Hale taught me) and some students are completely happy being stagnate and do just enough to get by without learning anything new. I think I fell into both of those categories as a student at different points in time.

I wrote about my assessments for my Social Policy: Civil Rights and Equality course this go around. I spent a lot of time coming up with these assessments and have really learned a lot from the assessments themselves, my students and their learning, and even my own teaching style (I’m so new at this, I’m still finding my authentic voice and style).

Mostly, I learned I will keep most of these assessments, but I’d like to try a new twist on them. This is helpful for me in planning my summer Social Work and Social Justice course since I will need to use different media to teach in the online environment. Here are my notes on assessments:

I chose to focus on these assessments because I came up with most of them on my own and made them more creative than I had seen in the past to see if it helped with student learning (and I felt more empowered after a semester under my belt to do so).

Assessment: Positionality Presentation

Students give a 5 minute presentation on who they are and what factors influence how they see the world and how the world sees them. This is designed to help them understand the power and privilege that they do and do not have. Policy is a means of social justice, but in order for students to understand power, they have to know how it exists in their own world. These presentations are creative and completely free for interpretation. I gave them all full credit for doing the assignment on time. Feedback comes only from me.

Assessment: Historical Civil Rights Speech Analysis Group Presentation

Students work in groups to analyze a historical civil rights speech, approved in advance by the instructor, on a particular person or area of interest. Students connect policies to these historical speeches (i.e. what policies are related to the speech and how did those speeches influence historical and modern policies). The group turns in one handout for the class, an annotated bibliography, and a feedback form where they assess their participation in the group and other group members. Feedback is based on my assessment with consideration from the feedback forms. The students created their own rubric for this.

Assessment: Policy White Paper

Students work individually to creatively present the intended and unintended consequences of a policy, who the policy affects, how it is a good or bad policy, how the policy relates to civil rights, and why a legislator should vote for or against the policy. This is done to help students present complex information in a concise, readable, creative, eye-catching format. Feedback is based on my assessment. I did not give a specific rubric for this beyond a description of the assignment in the syllabus and course discussion.

Assessment: Social Policy or Legislative Analysis

Students write a paper on a particular policy or proposed legislative action to understand the policy through the framework discussed in class. This assessment is used to gauge learning throughout the semester and is a final paper for the course. Students must interview key people that help create or implement or enforce particular policies and connect their analysis to civil rights and/or equality. This is the point of the class — for students to be able to analyze policies. I initially was not going to provide a rubric, but the class wanted this, so a rubric was provided. Feedback is given by me only.

New ideas:

For the historical speech presentations, I’d like to explore how those could be more concise and help students learn a new way of sharing information. I would like to ask them to create a video of their presentation instead of delivering it in class and present the video as their presentation with time for questions and follow up. I will still let the class determine the rubric for this assessment, but maybe I will also ask them to grade the presentations based on the rubric and factor those grades into my feedback.

So here it is. Some of these assessments were really meaningful to the students. They expressed that the positionality assignment helped them feel safe discussing the sensitive topics we talk about and get an idea of where others are coming from. They all really enjoyed this one and I want to keep it. For my summer Social Justice course, I plan to do a revised version of this by asking students to create an intro video addressing a series of questions and then blog about that experience.

I will definitely make the historical speech assessment come later in the semester and ask them to create a video of their presentation. I think this will help us stay on track and be fair and equitable to all students to fall within the allotted time (I’ll also give them more time for the presentation than I did — THAT was a big learning experience for me).

I’m not sure if I’ll change the other two assessments, but I’m definitely considering what I should change and what that could look like. The students were really appreciative of not having to write tons of papers in the course and I was too. Creative assignments have helped me focus more on substance than form. Maybe that’s good for a newbie professor like me!

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