The traditional method of testing students—once at midterms, and once at finals—works to a certain extent. After midterms, you’ll have a general idea of who in your class is doing well and who might need more help. But what you don’t know is how people are progressing in individual modules, or even whether some people are performing below expectations because they don’t do well with formal tests.
And by the time finals come along, it’s already too late.
In order to understand where your students stand academically—and to actually help them—it’s key to collect feedback regularly.
Nobody is suggesting formally assessing your students every class. But digital alternatives are available to track students’ comprehension, in a low-stakes fashion, from the comfort of their own devices. Here are some solutions you can use to garner feedback from your students—and then support the ones that need help.
This blog post is part two of a three part series on how to teach effectively using assessments and weekly feedback. See also:
- If You’re Only Assessing 3 Times a Semester, That’s Way Too Little
How can I collect feedback from my students?
Active learning practices can make for valuable feedback tools to better understand how your students are progressing. Classroom response systems1 are one way you can understand how students perform on a weekly basis. When you pose questions to an audience, students can respond anonymously either through a clicker or through their personal devices. Their responses are then displayed in real-time on a screen. Top Hat is a type of classroom response system that provides you with this functionality in class.
Classroom response systems increase participation as well, since students don’t have to fear answering a question incorrectly in front of the entire class.
This kind of technology is valuable as it helps you to bring active learning practices to your classroom. One active learning technique is the “muddiest point”—where, at the end of every lecture, students are asked to write down which part of the course material they least understood. This can be done anonymously, on a phone or a laptop, and the feedback you get can help you direct your teaching to the areas where it’s needed the most.
Another active learning technique that you can use to get feedback from your students is peer instruction. Veterinary professor Leslie Sprunger’s first-year students work in groups in a lab to present material to the class, which the group later evaluates using a rubric. This tactic not only helps students learn from one another, but h elps them identify their strengths and weaknesses in a given area. This is strong feedback you can use.
These techniques fall under the umbrella of formative assessment2, helping instructors measure students’ comprehension at multiple points during the term, rather than at the middle and end. In-class questions or quizzes and low-stakes anonymous exercises, assigned with little to no value, help students recognize and improve upon their weaknesses throughout the duration of the term.
Michael deBraga, Associate Professor at the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre at the University of Toronto, explains that students who are mainly focused on their final grades end up achieving greater mastery over their subjects if formative assessment is carried out in a structured way. “If you provide a guaranteed grade for the first part of the assignment, students feel less pressure to find the ‘correct’ answer and are more willing to try something different or take a risk. With no grade during the assignment’s earliest stage, the pressure is off and exploration is encouraged.
“The performance-focused student may not realize it but they are now practicing skills necessary for mastery as opposed to performance.”
These formative assessment techniques let students learn while they are being tested, practicing, accessing and using the information they’ve just learned (as opposed to waiting for midterms). Professors can act on any misinformation or gaps, patching them individually or by addressing problems in groups. This degree of personalization can especially help students in classes where students can sometimes feel anonymous—and help improve everyone’s learning outcomes at the same time.
Weekly assessment via Top Hat
It’s straightforward to set up regular feedback from your students with Top Hat—integrate them into your slides in class, or textbooks for outside the class or assignments. You can get a weekly course report to track your students’ comprehension, outlining where your students performed the best and where they need more work. You can also reach out to students via email and offer help. Read more about how the multiple ways that Top Hat can help you gather frequent feedback and provide better outcomes for your students.