Balancing Formative and Summative Assessment
“When we use technology well, we can bridge the student-instructor gap in big classes” – Dr. Mohammad Moshipour
Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour teaches the course ENGG 233: Computing for Engineers in the Sculich School of Engineering. The course is required for all first-year engineering students, meaning that around 800 students take the course each fall. There is a huge mix of programming abilities as the start of the coures. Some students are already quite advanced, while others are complete beginners. Programming is a skill that is learned through consistent practice and application, so Mohammad uses flipped learning in the course to ensure that the focus is on building up skills. Learn more about flipped learning here. There are many different assessments in the course, including lab assignments and exams. However, since flipping the classroom in 2015, he introduced two new assessments: online lecture quiz questions and a final project.
Online Lecture Quizzes
Instead of traditional lectures, students watch video lectures that Mohammad makes. In order to encourage students to focus and engage with the videos, he includes quiz questions associated with each one. The questions are designed to be straightforward and to highlight important points in the videos. Students only have one chance to answer each question, but they can re-watch the video several times before answering.
Ensuring that students do the pre-class work is important in flipped classrooms. They will not be able to follow along in tutorials and labs otherwise. The quiz questions are worth a total of 5%, which is enough to motivate students to complete them, without putting too much weight on them. These questions help ensure that students are grasping the major concepts in each video and staying on track with their learning. Quizzes are due right before each week’s tutorial session, so students already know the content for that day, and class time can be dedicated to writing programs together. Students tend to do well on the questions and like being able to easily achieve the full 5% of the grade. While it is only a small percentage, it can help boost them up slightly and take some pressure off other assessments.
Students have a large final project that they complete in the last several weeks of the semester. It applies many of the different programming skills from the course to a real-life scenario, such as creating a playable game of pool or a parking lot simulator. Mohammad changes the project each year, but ensures that it incorporates as much of the course material as possible.
First year students are not used to doing big projects, since most of their other courses rely on exams as the main assessments. They often feel intimidated at first, since the project relies on a deep understanding and ability to use programming skills. Mohammad helps scaffoled the project over time to help it feel more manageable. Students start by figuring out the basics. They check to make sure they are on the right track and then start to figure out more of the complexities. Time is dedicated to the project in the labs, so students can get feedback. TAs help manage difficulties and make suggestions on next steps. Although it does require a lot of work, students feel supported the entire time.
The project is always well done and students feel very proud of their finished programs. The project is a good assessment tool for such a mixed class, since students of all different programming levels feel challenged. The project is an opportunity for more advanced students to get involved and engaged in a course that they would otherwise find boring. Students who are newer to the skill get the chance to see how much they have learned and what they are able to do. Everyone leaves the class not only feeling like they have learned something, but being able to show it.
It was a large undertaking to develop and introduce new assessments into the course, along with the flipped learning model. Lots of research and thought had to go into each component. But the outcomes are always worth it. Mohammad does surveys and collects data about the student experience every year. Not only have grades been improving each year since these assessments have been introduced, but student engagement and interest has too. In 2017, more than 80% of students said they found the online lectures helpful and believed they learned a lot in the course. Mohammad sees the students engagement and understanding in the final products of the assessments. He says that the fact that students can do such a difficult, high-level project in a first year course demonstrates that students are committing themselves to the course and to their learning. This is so encouraging to see. Mohammad hopes that minor improvements to the assessments and to the course each year will help students feel even more challenged and supported.