Assessing Assessment

Last week BU hosted John McCahan Medical Education Day, a symposium dedicated to innovation, research, and technology in teaching. Martha Stassen, Director of Assessment at U Mass Amherst, delivered the keynote address in defense of assessment. Borrowing from Atul Gawande’s work on checklists, she argued that assessment can not only prevent errors but also enhance teaching.

One example of her argument is the biomedical engineer George Plopper, featured in a profile on Inside Higher Ed. After encountering Bloom’s taxonomy, Plopper restructured his undergraduate classes on cancer biology to integrate assessment into the syllabus. Instead of lecture, memorization, and test, Plopper’s classes now students analyze the subject matter themselves, teach it to each other, and apply it in realistic scenarios.

Plopper evaluates students on each of these tasks, pegging his assessment to specific terms in Bloom’s taxonomy. With the new focus on project-based learning, he measured quantitative gains in instances of higher order thinking. Rather than a burdensome task, being explicit about assessment helped improve student outcomes.

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