Summer Projects: Assessment

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This summer I’m working with a group of faculty at my college to study the assignments we use in courses designated part of our General Education program. This project is part of a grant that allows faculty to evaluate how well our assignments are meeting the College’s “Educated Person outcomes.”  In my case I’m assessing a short (4-5 page) writing and research project that I’ve used for many years in my US History II survey course. 


I’ve said in previous posts that one of the best things about blogging about teaching is that I am forced to constantly reassess my own practices. This grant has amplified the benefits of that experience and helped me to focus on the clarity of my instructions to the students, my personal process of assessment, and the creation of a rubric for this specific project. 


This project is worth 25% of the students’ course grade. In the past I have found rubrics useful when grading lower-stakes assignments such as Discussion Board posts in online classes because they help students to see how they might improve their future discussion posts while allowing me to grade quickly and (in my view) accurately. I have not previously used a rubric to grade this particular assignment for no other reason than I had not designed an evaluation tool to use. Participating in this grant-funded project has given me the motivation needed to view the project through a new lens and I found the process of writing a rubric instructional in the sense that it forced me to identify exactly what I am looking for in my students’ work and how various degrees of those expectations may be met.


In addition to assessing the students’ submissions using my newly minted rubric, I am using this opportunity to compare student work across different modes of instruction. I will be comparing work submitted by an in-person class that met in a traditional 15-week semester this past spring with that of a fully online course that is part of our summer intensive offerings (6 weeks). I’m interested to see if there are significant differences between the overall quality of work submitted in the two different time frames and modes of instruction.


I’m excited to share my findings in the coming months. What’s on your teaching and learning agenda for the summer months? Please share.

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About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.