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Classroom Assessment Techniques

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Cartoon image of a kitty cat.  Cat is animated on mouse over with the word C-A-T appearing. Mike U. Smith
Department of Internal Medicine
Mercer University School of Medicine

Sherry A. Southerland
Science Education
University of Utah

Sherry Southerland

"...In my own research, I used several different kinds of interview probes (interviews about instances, concept maps, and cards sorts) to investigate how students learn about biological evolution...After completing my dissertation, I began teaching science in a rural high school...While I was there, I struggled with the same problems most teachers have...Although the constraints of teaching made me leave my video and tape recorders behind, I found a place to use the card sorts and interviews about instances that I had previously used in my research...The explanations [the students] offered...allowed me to understand how the students...were interpreting my instruction on evolution. Although I had been convinced of the utility of these sorts of interviews for research purposes, in my teaching I learned to depend on informal interviews as a valuable resource to guide my instruction."

In depth "structured" interviews with a handful of carefully selected students will enable you to readily judge the extent of understanding your students have developed with respect to a series of well-focused, conceptually-related scientific ideas. This form of assessment provides feedback that is especially useful to instructors who want to improve their teaching and the organization of their courses.

A formal interview consists of a series of well-chosen questions (and often a set of tasks or problems) which are designed to elicit a portrait of a student's understanding about a scientific concept or set of related concepts (Southerland, Smith & Cummins, 2000). The interview may be videotaped or audiotaped for later analysis.


Instructor Preparation Time: Several hours required to develop a set ofgood questions, tasks and problems sets. Additional time to locate appropriate props and recording equipment, if desired.
Preparing Your Students: Interviews are most fruitful when the student has developed a good rapport with you. It is essential that the student feels relaxed and at ease.
Class Time: One-on-one or small group interviews may be conducted in less than an hour in your office or other convenient "private space." Some practice will reduce the time required to conduct a good interview.
Disciplines: No disciplinary constraints. Appropriate for all SMET fields.
Class Size: Normally, structured interviews are conducted outside of class. It is important that subjects be carefully selected to represent a range of ability and interest levels among students enrolled in a course.
Special Classroom/Technical Requirements: Interview protocol, props, recording equipment and small private space.
Individual or Group Involvement: The most useful interviews are those conducted with individuals or small groups outside of class. Sometimes this is done well in laboratory sections, but TAs will need special training or assistance.
Analyzing Results: For "formative" assessment, the instructor may want to review taped interviews with special attention to potential "misconceptions." If used for "summative" evaluation, a type of "scoring rubric" may be developed.
Other Things to Consider: None.

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