In want of the assessable objective

For a long while, assessment of our instruction program and workshops has taken a backseat to more pressing concerns, like the day-to-day running of the library and building of a coherent instruction program. This spring I decided to pilot some assessment in our English 101 courses. At PSC, ENG101 has two required instruction sessions, and I targeted one particular ENG101 for this pilot with the goal of embedding assessment into both sessions.

I’ve long been frustrated by the approaches to assessment for library instruction sessions. The general approach seems to lean heavily on pre-/post-testing, which I am loathe to do. I can hardly imagine a circumstance that would leave a worse impression on a student than pre-/post-tests for a guest lecture. I need my assessments to be as unobtrusive yet fruitful as possible.

For the first session, I collaborated with the professor to design a journal, to be assigned after the session, which asked students to find some articles for their forthcoming annotated bibliography and then ask them to unpack their process and thinking a little. This assignment was for a grade in class. For the second session, I brought out my trusty notecards and asked students to reflect on how class changed how they might use their sources and to explain their next steps in research. Something is better than nothing, I figured, so let’s just start there.

Well, I have to tell you I learned a lot, but not much about what students did or did not learn. I learned that my learning objectives leave a lot to be desired. It’s not that these workshops don’t have learning objectives. They do! It’s just that assessing the objectives as written doesn’t lead to an understanding of whether or not students learn something. I can assess whether we are doing what we said we would do in the workshop – yes, the students are making and revising a mindmap – but without rewriting the objectives, I can’t assess whether making a mindmap had any effect on the students’ final projects.

For the objects that are well-written, I focused on the wrong end of the statement:

  • Students will revise their mind map and research plan in order to understand that a paper or research project may be effected by the information that is found.

In this instance, I focused on whether or not they were revising, and not on their understanding. I looked at what they were doing and not what they were learning.

So, I have some work to do there. All in all, though, I’d call that a successful assessment. I learned something that will cause me to go about it a different way in the future.

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