The Northwestern University’s Assessment Repository is an assessment tool designed to systematically collect and share teaching and assessment innovations at the program, major, department, and school/unit level.
Read descriptive accounts of Northwestern faculty members’ assessments of individual courses and projects.
Assessing Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, Leadership & Self-Efficacy
Recently, I piloted a Design, Technology, and Research (DTR) learning initiative, by taking an integrative approach to the course, focusing on the simultaneous development of technical expertise, critical thinking skills, and real-world problem solving ability through authentic practice.
DTR is designed to build students’ self-efficacy; help undergraduates realize their potential for developing novel technologies and creative solutions through design, engineering, and research; and develop graduate students’ competencies for leading research groups.
Because this was a pilot program with potential for growth, it was critical for me to assess these student learning objectives. I conducted formative assessments using semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, self-assessment forms, and pre- and post-surveys. I also gathered quantitative data on participation, retention, products, and publications to evaluate DTR as an effective and scalable model.
Based on students’ feedback, we have added support where needed by, for example, increasing focus on refining research questions earlier in the quarter and involving more faculty and graduate student mentors during the demo and critiques. The findings also helped me understand the specific course components that aided student learning and fostered their consistent progress (e.g., design logs and pair research). As the program expands, we will continue to use these techniques, as well as experiment with and evaluate new approaches.
Assessing Student Engagement and Critical Writing Skills in the Lecture Context
Like many of my colleagues, I have typically felt more at home teaching small seminars than large lecture-style classes. My students have sometimes picked up on that; in CTEC evaluations, students suggested that, although they enjoyed my lectures, they were overwhelmed by the volume of material, the pace, and overly dense PowerPoint presentations.
As a result, I began wondering how to choreograph large classes to achieve a similar level of student engagement as that experienced in seminars. Simultaneously, I wished to foster critical writing in the lecture setting. Thus, a German film course designed to reach a broad student base and teach analytical skills critical to the humanities became my testing grounds for pursuing these aims: facilitating students’ ongoing critical engagement in a lecture context; and integrating the teaching of critical writing practices into the lecture format.
In the context of the German film lecture course, the course’s 6 stated student learning objectives underscore an emphasis on developing skills in analysis and evaluation. For example, one objective is for students to “elaborate a critical approach to watching and analyzing films in their specific cultural contexts.”
To address these learning objectives, I experimented with a variety of new teaching strategies, including the regular use of problem-centered small group exercises and breaking up the lecture format (for example through the use of images and brief film clips, analysis in small groups, and punctual open questions).
In an effort to promote critical writing in a communicative and supportive environment, I also developed an in-class peer response writing workshop based on the students’ previously submitted and graded first paper.
To gauge the effect of these new approaches I administered a midterm evaluation. The student responses suggested that they were particularly engaged by the analysis of film clips and paired exercises.
To measure progress and student engagement in critical writing, I surveyed students and asked them to reflect upon their own writing practices both before and after a peer response writing workshop. The post-workshop survey indicated that the majority of students supported the inclusion of critical writing of this kind in the lecture setting.
It became clear to me that a more “engaged,” learner-center teaching practice in the lecture hall increases participation and fosters active immersion in the materials. Because the students indicated that the writing workshop positively impacted their analytical and writing abilities—while also creating a positive sense of community in the class—I have continued to incorporate this component into my lecture courses.