posted October 9, 2007

Multiple Authors Write Book on Measuring Student Learning

In the department of history at Hope College, learning in one class follows the Yellow Brick Road.  In an education course, it might include producing a drawing of a refrigerator.  In engineering, it can include building a better athletic bandage roller.

More than a dozen educators share their insights into effective teaching strategies as co-authors of the book "Beyond Tests and Quizzes:  Creative Assessment in the College Classroom."

The book features 14 chapters by current or former HopeCollege professors concerning ways they have approached teaching and determining how much their students have learned.  It is being published this month by Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons Inc. of San Francisco, Calif., and was edited by husband-and-wife faculty members Barbara Mezeske, associate professor of English, and Dr. Richard Mezeske, professor of education and chairperson of the department.

"The book is in part designed to show what good teachers do in terms of lesson design and learning," Richard Mezeske said.

"We purposely chose people we knew were doing interesting things," he said.  "We wanted to show that there were multiple ways of measuring student learning, even though assessment is becoming more and more standardized and more and more mandated."

The authors represent a broad mix of the programs at the college, including athletic training, biology, communication, economics, engineering, English, history, mathematics, modern and classical languages, and teacher education.  The authors offer examples of approaches that range from assigning engineering students to invent a machine for rolling athletic bandages and documenting the process; to having teacher-education students demonstrate their understanding of course concepts by presenting them in a graphic metaphorical form called a "concept map"; to allowing English students to select the assignments they complete to produce their final grade from a menu including tests, papers and quizzes.

In her chapter, "'From Now On You'll Be History':  The Transition from Memorization to Analysis," Dr. Janis Gibbs describes how she uses "The Wizard of Oz" in one of the department of history's introductory methods courses.  It sounds light-hearted, but the exercise was crafted carefully to introduce students to the type of thinking and methods that they will apply not only throughout the remainder of the course but also to all of their study of history.

"It's basically a non-threatening way to start to get them thinking like historians rather than thinking like memorizers," said Gibbs, who is an associate professor of history and chairperson of the department.

In the exercise, Gibbs presents the death of the Wicked Witch of the East as if it were a historical event known only through sketchy written records.  The students aren't told what event they're studying, or even that it is based on a work of fiction.  Instead, they are asked to piece together information about the incident and its context from the clues that she makes available - weather reports that include word of a wind storm, the death of a noted political figure as shared in a brief news article, the membership requirements of a "Lollipop Guild," and a lost-and-found ad offering a reward for the return of a pair of red shoes.

By the end of the two-day-project, the students, most familiar with the story, have relatively easily figured out just what it is they were investigating, but along the way, Gibbs noted, they use all of the skills the department will expect them to apply in the future, such as interpreting documents, knowing how to ask historical questions, and even understanding the limits of the written record (subsequently watching the scene in Munchkinland reveals myriad details about the society and event not revealed through the written record).

"It helps the students figure out where they are in terms of their understanding of historical questions," Gibbs said.  "It opens up new ideas to them and shows them where we'll be going next."

"I think it's helped a lot," she said.  "What we hear from the students is, 'My gosh, this is useful.'  And the students who take the course late almost all say they wish they had taken it earlier."

In addition to Gibbs and the Mezeskes, the faculty who wrote or co-wrote chapters in the book are:  Dr. Susan Cherup, who is the Arnold and Esther Sonneveldt Professor of Education and acting chairperson of the department for the fall semester; Mary DeYoung, associate professor of mathematics; Dr. Lee Forester, professor of German; Dr. Rhoda Janzen, associate professor of English; Dr. Michael Misovich, associate professor of engineering; Dr. R. Richard Ray Jr., professor of kinesiology, athletic trainer and chairperson of the department; Dr. David Schock, formerly a visiting associate professor of communication; Dr. Thomas Smith, who is the Dr. Leon A. Bosch '29 Professor of Management; Dr. Elizabeth Trembley, associate professor of English and director of the FOCUS and SOAR programs; Dr. Roger Veldman, associate professor of engineering; and Dr. Kathy Winnett-Murray, professor of biology.

In addition, the book includes an introduction written by Dr. Elizabeth Gayton, who is Dean of Education at Liverpool Hope University in England, with which Hope has an exchange relationship; and a conclusion written by Dr. Scott VanderStoep, associate professor of psychology and chairperson of the department, and Dr. Carla Reyes, assistant professor in the Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah.