COVID-19 provides an opportunity to assess your online teaching effectiveness. Use the following Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) to get started now!
If you were not teaching online already, most (if not all) of you will be soon. For many this might be your first time teaching online and learning things as you go is perfectly okay; students aren’t the only ones who need to learn! As you transition your class(es) into an online modality it is important to assess not only student progress and engagement, but also your effectiveness as a teacher. Educators, both new and experienced, also need to be continually learning, not just about the subjects they teach, but also about how to teach. One way of gauging how and what people are learning is through assessments.
Teachers understand the value of assessing their students. That’s why they use graded and summative assignments, quizzes, and tests. Many teachers also use ungraded, formative assessments called CATs (Classroom Assessment Techniques) that provide opportunities to assess teaching and learning throughout a course. Students’ responses to CATs are not assessed as having either right or wrong answers and the prompts are not something that students prepare or study for ahead of time. Those elements are what make CATs such an effective assessment tool for gauging the present and seeing where and how to improve for the future.
But what about assessing teaching and learning during this current COVID-19 pandemic where teachers and learners are perhaps finding themselves in unfamiliar educational environments? Is this a good or bad time to assess teaching and learning? On March 10, as more and more schools were closing to onsite education and commencing online learning, an article appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education in which the author suggested using this opportunity to study the effectiveness of online learning. However, his suggestion was met with strong disagreement based on reactions I read on LinkedIn and Twitter. Weeks later, two articles appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 25) and Inside Higher Ed (March 29) denouncing his suggestion to assess online teaching and learning at this time because of the unexpected and unplanned situation in which many suddenly found themselves. The negative reactions were similar to when a teacher suddenly says “Pop Quiz!” and the fear of failure wells up in the unprepared. However, instead of a pop quiz that affects one’s grade or feels like a “gotcha” moment, let’s think of the current situation and suggestion to assess online learning in terms of ungraded CATs for teachers designed to help them assess how they are doing.
In Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross list fifty CATs that teachers can use with their students. CATs meet students where they are at and help both students and teachers throughout a course. For the purpose of this article, I have taken ten of those suggested CATs and revised them to be teacher- instead of student-centered in order to help all teachers assess how they are doing in the current situation in which they find themselves, whether they are new to online education or have years of experience. You might want to space out the following ten CATs so that you are not doing them all in one day or even one week. Also, consider revisiting some or all during and/or after the remainder of this school year to see if and how your responses change. Answer each prompt below in the context of teaching amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Minute Paper
Take one minute to answer the following two questions: What is the most important thing you have learned thus far? and What important questions remain unanswered for you?
2. Pros and Cons
List the pros/cons, costs/benefits, advantages/disadvantages that you currently see and/or experience with your teaching and your students’ learning.
3. One-Sentence Summary
Write a long-sentence summary about online teaching that answers the question “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?
4. Identify the Principle(s)
What principle(s) help solve the problem(s) and issue(s) you are facing?
5. Application Examples
List tools, resources, and methods that can help solve problems in relation to the principle(s) you listed for the previous question.
Consider whether you agree or disagree (and why) with the following statement: It is possible to effectively teach and learn through online/remote/distance education.
7. Identify and Rank Goals
List and prioritize three to five goals you have for yourself and your students.
8. Diagnostic Log
Identify and diagnose problems you have encountered and prescribe solutions to those.
9. Peer and Manager Communication
Interact with other teachers and your supervisors about the principles, problems, and praises related to your teaching and your students’ learning.
Provide feedback to supervisors and request feedback from your students regarding the format and value of the current teaching/learning environment and situation.
Pandemics often result in discoveries and improvements in medicine and public health that otherwise might not have been developed. Crises lead to the advancement of healthcare knowledge, skills, and methods. The same could occur with education. COVID-19 can help teachers improve if they use it as an assessment opportunity. The ten CATs listed above are just to get you started. After responding to some or all of those, challenge yourself to revise other CATs or devise new ones that better fit your own unique situation and needs. Just remember that unlike other assessments CATs do not have right or wrong answers and they are formative, not summative, in nature and purpose. The purpose is not to pass judgment, but to prompt critical thinking and promote improvement.