The Missing Link: Getting Flipped Learning Assessment Right

Lead Features January 20 / January 28, 2020

 – Dr. Thomas Mennella –

Tell me how many times this has happened to you at your job: Your boss comes to you and says, “Come with me. We’re going to put you in a quiet room and give you a pen and some paper. You’re going to have exactly 75 minutes to write down everything you know about _______________. It all must be from memory only; you’ll have no other resources to use.”

Let me answer for all of you: never. Exams are the most artificial, impractical and non-real-world experiences possible. Never are we put in a situation that even remotely resembles exams ‘out there’ in adulthood. Yet, we continue to assess student learning in this way. Why?

The real world

Here’s what does happen every single day on the job: You’re given a task by a supervisor, and you’re expected to complete it autonomously and effectively using all of the tools and resources at your disposal. You use prior knowledge and skills, to be sure, but you also use online resources, books, articles, etc.  

And here’s something else that happens in the real world: you’re given second chances! Only in the rarest of rare exceptions does failure result in being fired from your job. Much more often, your supervisor will look at what you’ve accomplished, explain that it is insufficient, and give you feedback for improvement.

Exams are not only impractical and artificial, but they also cause students an enormous amount of stress and anxiety. And understandably so. Imagine that you worked for your boss for 15 intensive weeks, but the entirety of your assessment at that job came down to four hours of performance. Wouldn’t you be terrified during those four hours, too? Most college courses are fifteen weeks long, and most student learning is assessed via two unit exams and a final: approximately four hours of student work.  

Additionally, exams promote bad habits that are completely counterproductive in the ‘real world’. These include:

    • Memorization
    • Procrastination
    • Cramming
    • Siloing

… and many more.

We effectively train our students to ‘succeed’ using these awful strategies and then send them out into the workforce completely ill-prepared for real learning and real assessment.  

Rethinking assessment 

In 2020, my professional commitment – my New Year’s resolution – is to create assessment opportunities for my students that are fair and reflect the real world. I am committed to testing my students’ learning in ways that allow them to use multiple resources, allow them to manage their time, allow them to set their own expectations and – most importantly – allow them to fail without failing by getting feedback from me for iterative improvement.  

Throughout the year, I’ll be sharing my failures and successes here on FLR as I embrace new strategies for assessing student learning. It will be rocky, I know. But I’m confident that my students will appreciate the efforts and even more confident that they will leave my classes better prepared for adulthood. The world does not need any more test-takers; what we need are problem solvers. And I intend to give my students problems to solve, and I’ll coach them all along the way. 

Thomas Mennella
Dr. Thomas Mennella Mennella
I have been an instructor in higher education for over ten years. Starting as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and then moving on to an Assistant Professorship at Delaware State University (DSU), a small public university, I experimented with Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and was an early-adopter of the iClicker student response system. Now an Associate Professor at Bay Path University, a private liberal arts institution in western Massachusetts, I primarily teach Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology. I am Flipped Learning 3.0 Level -II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

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on February 1, 2020

Hi Mr. Manella, I totally agree with you about the artifical situation. In my county in Switzerland (Berne), we are now required to assess pupils not only with classical exams but with formative evaluations as well. It is a result of our new curriculum that strengthens competencies over pure knowledge.
So the key should be:
40% summative exams
40% formative evaluations with feedbacks
20% evaluation of motivation and self-organizational skills

It is a steep learningcourve for us teachers as such evaluations are not yet used widely. There are not many exemplary examples and we have to yet find our own methods. And the schoolbooks were just published in the last months with very basic online-resources or evaluations.

So I had to find my own may in my natural science classes (13 year old pupils):
1. I give small groups a task-description, for example to create a growth-experiment with garden cress (control, experimental change etc.) with a criteria-table for their experimental protocols. So they can see their goals with the achieveable grades.
2. After the experiment, I let them evaluate their own product with the criterias and assess it as well with provisory grades. I explain what they can change or supplement and they are free to hand in a corrected version. Some do not and that gives me an insight in their motivation…
4. The last version will have the definite grades.

That is not very “flippy” yet, but my actual upgrade is to present the task online with anonymized sample-parts from the last year (including grades). So they have a guideline for a more straightforward approach without the guessinggame about the teachers wishes.
With a included peer-review between different groups I may even reduce my workload further.

I would be pleased to hear more ideas about formative reviews/assessments as it is a great transition in my country at the moment…

on February 17, 2020

Very exciting approach – I am very interested in same topic specially how you design your assignments? I am more focused on the feedback/feedforward part. My student never gets a grade on their product but a grade illustrating their proces and learning progress. I am trying to do that by making a video best practice solution an let the students compare own assignment(and my comments and hints in the assignment). Then they have to deliver a small summary telling: what they would change, what they will carry on into the next assignment, and how they would grade their own assignment compared to the BP assignment. When they have delivered the summery they will get a grade illustrating the development proces.
Does This Make sence in your optic?

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