By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist
Todd Zakrajsek, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Executive Director of the Academy of Educators at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Dr. Zakrajsek is also an accomplished author and presenter in the world of faculty development and teaching excellence in higher education; I’ve had the privilege to hear him speak on numerous occasions. During his talks, Dr. Zakrajsek usually shares a video clip called the Five Minute University:
This video is a humorous riff on a lingering question: Why invest so much time into learning if we are destined to forget most of what we learn? I acknowledge that, as educators, we knowingly view this question as illogical. We are privileged to know that higher education is not just about memorizing facts and figures or checking boxes on a degree matrix; it’s about developing the hard and soft skills that will sustain an individual in their career and for the rest of their life. The real question is: How do we ensure that our courses and curricula are equipping students with the skills they need to be successful? The answer: Assessment.
It is a misnomer that assessment is reserved exclusively for the academic department level, academic school level, or institution level. Assessment belongs at every level, especially the course level. I highly-encourage every educator to find a method of course assessment that works for them and to practice it regularly. The results of this practice are higher-quality courses and an improved student learning experience.
My personal assessment practice begins with course planning: (1) I use the approved course learning objectives as the learning goals for developing my course; (2) I determine what constitutes evidence that these learning objectives are being achieved; (3) I create an outline for my course that aligns my course learning objectives with weekly learning goals and objectives; (4) I develop assignments, activities, and instruction to support the process, capture evidence, and assess learning.
Once the course begins, I monitor overall student performance throughout the term and make note of the needed changes or improvements that become evident right away. Next, I make it a point to check in with my students regularly to hear their thoughts on their experience in my course (eventually I pair this information with my student observation results).
When the term wraps up, I add my final reflections and organize my notes (I use Microsoft OneNote* as my notebook) so they are easily accessible the next time I am scheduled to teach the course. I organize my notes into five categories: (1) things that exceeded my expectations; (2) things that met my expectations; (3) things that need improvement; (4) things that need to be eliminated from the course; (5) things that need to be added to the course.
On a final note, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Dr. Zakrajsek speak (he is the Director of the Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching), take the opportunity. Dr. Zakrajsek is an inspiring speaker and teacher educator.
*Microsoft OneNote is a notebook in Microsoft Office that allows you to capture notes, drawings, screen clippings, and audio notes. You can organize your notebook into tabs (I tab mine by course). There is a built-in search tool that makes retrieving notes easy.
What do you do to assess your courses? Tell us about it in the comments section!