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Assessment is an arc, not episodic

Twenty-five years ago, the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) published the “Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning”, a framework which continues to shape and influence pedagogy in academic environments across the world. The framework posits that instructors and administrators must embrace assessment as an arc, rather than an episode, aligning them with clearly defined outcomes to develop and promote lifelong learning in students.

With the growth of digital technology and personalized learning strategies, the following AAHE principles are as relevant—if not more so—as they were in 1992.

The assessment of student learning begins with educational values (Align assessments with goals).

Assessments—whether they are exams, homework, lab reports, and group work—should be activities designed to enrich and improve student learning. Assessments should encourage students to push their boundaries, foster their intellectual curiosity, and think critically about the academic subjects they are studying. Assessments which only serve to measure an isolated snapshot of student comprehension provide limited insights and may deter students from appropriate engagement with the material.

Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also to the experiences that lead to those outcomes (Focus on both the journey and destination).

Too often students and administrators focus exclusively on final grades as indicators of academic success and ability. While cumulative grades are important, they serve as the epilogue rather than the chapters of the story. Each assessment is an opportunity for both students and instructors to reflect and improve, and digital learning technology makes this opportunity more accessible for all parties.

For instructors, evaluating holistic and individual performances of each assessment allows them to identify knowledge gaps and respond accordingly by dedicating more class time to a subject or developing personalized plans for individual students. For students, the ability to receive and reflect on personalized formative feedback—rather than just a letter grade—encourages them to adopt better study habits and improve their overall performance.

Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about (Connect learning to the real world).

Connecting classroom learning to real-world practice sparks student creativity and engagement with subject matter. To the chagrin of instructors, students will complain about learning certain subjects, asking “when will I use this outside of this class?”; isolated assessments focusing on abstract scenarios only reinforces their disengagement. Designing assessments that connect to real-world issues and examples not only facilitates student comprehension and engagement in the classroom, but equips them with the ability to bring knowledge and skills to the real world. It is encouraging to see the AAHE assessment principles established a quarter century ago remain as relevant and influential in contemporary pedagogy.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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