An Inquiry Assessment Toolkit

Engaged learning is one of the foundation blocks of UNH’s recently articulated general education curriculum, the Discovery Program. This "toolkit" focuses on ways in which assessment not only measures the extent of student engagement in the learning process, but in fact increases that engagement. With support from the Davis Educational Foundation, a faculty group has developed course-embedded formative assessment techniques for the program's first-year inquiry-based courses. The goal is to create a culture of assessment that will be transferable to the Discovery Program at large. A key feature of the plan is an "assessment toolkit"--a set of instruments and practices from which other faculty can select as they seek to improve their courses through formative assessment.

Too often assessment is seen by faculty as another administration-driven "add-on"—a top-down mandate that has little to do with the real work of teaching and learning that occurs in their classrooms. Negative images of standardized testing and of learning reduced to rote memorization -- the very antithesis of "engaged learning"-- are evoked by the key terms of the assessment movement: measurable outcomes. In sharing the work done by a faculty team at UNH, we present the assessment toolkit to promote what Barbara Walvoord calls "grassroots assessment," assessment to enhance learning and improve teaching, at the same time as it measures learning outcomes that are compatible with inquiry, discovery, and engagement. Key to the success of the first-year inquiry program is the extent to which faculty who teach the courses have been working to build assessment measures into the courses without having them imposed from above. Such course-embedded assessment practices have been shown to increase student awareness of learning processes as well as adding to their understanding of course content.

Finding out what students have learned: One professor's approach

Ham Smith Hall

In his Psychology 444 course, Professor Victor Benassi uses a pre- and post-test approach to determine the extent to which the class has met certain course objectives. To see a copy of the test he administers, click here.

Pre- and post-tests and surveys are one method of determining the extent to which an inquiry course has affected students' grasp of a subject, their view of the world, their orientation toward learning, or other course outcomes that might be more difficult to measure using more traditional means such as final examinations, etc.

For other examples, see in the toolkit the "Worldview Assignment" (BIOL 444) and the student surveys used in SOC 444 and MICR 444.