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Classroom Assessment Techniques

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Discussion options.
Once the ConcepTest question has been posed and students given time to think and vote, the subsequent discussion period forms the core of what is called "think-pair-share" methodology. This process encourages a student to articulate her thoughts on a question and to listen to the thoughts described by classmates. These activities are a critical part of understanding a concept as it allows students to take ownership of a concept on their terms. It is axiomatic that we truly understand an idea when we can explain it to someone else in a way that lets them understand it, too.

"Report out" is an extension of this think-pair-share approach, whereby volunteers from several groups of students are asked to explain to the class why they chose the answer that they did. This is done before the correct answer is presented so that students can examine and understand the reasoning behind choosing the incorrect as well as correct answers. Of course, with this method students must be encouraged not to become embarrassed by choosing the incorrect answer. Usually, as the report out method is used more often, students become increasingly comfortable with the idea of sharing their logic with the rest of the class. If there is still fear that students will not be comfortable sharing their answers aloud, a randomly selected anonymous group can be asked to put their answer and logic on an overhead transparency. In this way, the instructor can request classwide feedback to the answer without having to identify the students who provided it.

People have collected data quantitatively for analysis after lecture; qualitatively, instructors can adjust the lecture based on class response. Some additional issues for which preliminary data are encouraging are:

Pros and Cons
The ability to receive immediate feedback on a ConcepTest is valued by students as well as instructors. Commonly, students comment on the value of a ConcepTest as a check on their understanding of the material.

Amount of Coverage:
Some lecturers and students are concerned that less material may be covered. A more likely outcome is that using this method encourages the instructor to focus more on the "big picture" and results in enhanced student understanding. Sometimes this immediate feedback allows for the coverage of more material. Many times a ConcepTest is posed and the overwhelming majority of the class can identify the correct answer immediately without having to discuss the question. In the all-lecture format the instructor might have spent considerable time explaining the topic as part of the scripted lecture.

Instructor Preparation:
The first time an instructor develops lectures around ConcepTests it may well take longer to prepare. However, many ConcepTests have already been developed and are available as a time-saving resource through
websites. Once an instructor becomes comfortable with the method, preparing for a lecture can frequently take less time and be less stressful. Instead of a carefully scripted presentation that needs to be delivered by the instructor to fill completely the available class time, the essence of the ConcepTest approach is that the class period is punctuated with discussion periods of variable length that depend on the rate of class understanding. While this introduces the uncertainty of just how far the instructor will move through the presentation, it is easy to plan the storyline into the next lecture and simply pick up at the point where the class ends. Instructors may find preparing and delivering classes in this manner less stressful, as an implicit part of the preparation and delivery is that he or she does not always have to be in control. Moreover, the discussion periods provide an extension of preparation time. While the class is involved in discussion, the instructor has a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the best way to introduce the next idea, perhaps informed by speaking with student groups during the discussion periods; or casually to make a final check on the details of an upcoming demonstration that will be presented.

ConcepTests provide a mechanism for initiating the students (and instructor) into peer instruction strategies. ConcepTests can also help students break out of old habits that may inhibit learning, such as relying on short term memorization. An almost universal observation of instructors who use ConcepTests is that students become more articulate in using the language of science. The constant opportunity to use new terms and concepts in discussions with peers provides useful practice at a critical stage, facilitating the construction of a particular concept. The students not only hear correct answers expressed in their own words but often may realize that there is more than one approach to thinking about a problem. Students often find themselves motivated to come to class to consult with their peers, developing facility with the ideas and language of SMET disciplines in the classroom and enhancing their self-confidence. A common observation of instructors is that there are fewer empty seats in lecture after they started using ConcepTests.

However, interactive lectures with ConcepTests are not valued by all students. Of course, no single technique will please everyone but there appears to be a minority of students whose expectations for lecture do not match the interactive style. A small number of students expect and want a more passive lecture. This may be especially true for those who were highly successful in a traditional course and are wary of trying something different.

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