Visualize Your Assessments

Originally posted 6/24/2014

This week I’m thinking along the lines of how to merge a few items I’ve read and distill them in such a way as to share them with a rather larger audience: the Teaching Tips readership. I’ve been brainstorming a few ideas. It lead me to the concept of a mind map for this. Right from there I went to the Ishikawa Diagram. Yup. Old school, that’s me. Let’s trade on my early years with Total Quality Management and see if we can have a marriage. Except we’ll replace the bones coming from the spine with A fishbone diagram would normally have the following areas to be evaluated: manpower, methods, machines, materials, measurement, and some times Mother Nature (external environment.) Our diagram is going to use elements (Ally, 2008, p.21) from the cognitivist school of learning:

  • memory
  • thinking
  • reflection
  • abstraction
  • motivation
  • metacognition

Let’s take learner-centered assessments as described in the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty and add them to our graphic. Where do oral presentations, student evaluation of each other’s work, group and team projects producing joint products, service-learning/co-op experiences, and assignments requiring interaction with the community or business/industry fit? Not a perfect fit. In fact, my first pass at this just MAKES NO SENSE.

Thankfully, there are many ways to diagram your semester assessments. Once you do you might see a hole either in the type of activities you’re asking your students perform or in the type of learner you’re trying to reach. Take a moment to consider whether or not there is one part of your course materials that students just don’t seem to get. Can you help make it easier to absorb? Can you play to different students learning styles? Can you help them process that information more efficiently? After all you provide the students with a proposed list of outcomes, and you want them to learn. It’s just not a simple equation. Do we know whether or not they are learning? Watch out; pen and paper are making a come back. Mind map, information map, Ishikawa diagram: it doesn’t matter how you draw out your assignments. Even a bulleted list of all the elements might show you what’s missing. If you choose to make a list consider reading A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview and/or the section on the six facets of understanding from the Understanding by Design text by Wiggins & McTighe. After each assessment or activity description jot down a few keywords. Soon you may see a pattern appear or discover a hole that you’d like to fill. 


I teach CITS 222 Internet Authoring & Design (also called Web Design) this is my summer course calendar. Taking a few of the assignments from the column furthest to the right and adding taxonomy I get this:

  • Registrars/Hosts – blog post on research with some specific questions; student is also supposed to share the domain registrar they think they will use. (thinking, reflection)
  • Uncovering Code: using tools like Firebug – where a student tests out a product that enhances their web browser and lets them learn about html, css, load times, etc. they try it and discuss it with peers–specifically sharing tips (6 facets: explanation, application, perspective)
  • Wireframe/Draft site (in M7) and then Final Project (in M9): students draft their idea and present it to the instructor and then later they create the site they drafted (Bloom’s: knowledge, comprehension, application, synthesis/analysis — because of the reworking/rethinking and having to create what they said they wanted to…)

MindMapAssessmentsI think you can see the purpose of the exercise. What matters is the framework in which you present the materials to your students.

Who uses learner-centered assessments?

“Responses show that just under half of the faculty used group/team projects and about 25% of the faculty used service-learning/community/co-op. Of the five learner- centered techniques examined in this study, service-learning was used the least.” (Webber, 2012, p. 214)

…faculty in two-year colleges showed the highest use of service-learning techniques, which makes sense in light of the strong mission of two-year institutions to meet the needs of their surrounding community.

Although the use learner-centered assessment can be an effective gauge to measure authentic learning, the use of these techniques alone does not ensure high levels of student learning. Data in the NSOPF surveys do not include measures of learning, so it is not possible to know from these data the true relationship between use of assessment techniques and actual learning outcomes. (p. 222)

Why do it?

Reach your students. Teach your students. Possibly have a better idea what they did learn. Probably seat the information more firmly: help them with recall and application of the course content. Your students might already be good learners. Help them be awesome.

Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In Anderson, T., & Elloumi, F. (Eds.). The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.) (pp. 15–44). Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.
Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An OverviewTheory Into Practice41(4), 212-218.
Webber, K. (2012). The Use of Learner-Centered Assessment in US Colleges and Universities. Research In Higher Education, 53(2), 201-228.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.) Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 370 p.

Author’s Note:  Three types of information maps are shown on page 25 of Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning by Ally.