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Assessment of Learning in the Time of COVID-19

A message from Assistant Provost for Curriculum and Assessment Lou Slimak

I recently had the opportunity to participate as a panelist in a webinar hosted by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) about assessment in the time of COVID-19. A central theme among all the panelists’ presentations was the fact that now, more than ever, assessment of learning should be focused on evaluating what our students are (and aren’t) learning in a way that allows us to improve that learning.

I can’t think of another situation in which understanding what our students are learning is more relevant than what we are collectively experiencing in higher education right now. Faculty have had to transition years of work on their courses into new modalities overnight. Students now must learn our course material as well as how to be effective distance learners – something with which they may have little or no experience.

In addition, the stressful transition to college has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and we must be sensitive to the fact that students are likely to be even more anxious and distracted than ever before.

Because of these added hurdles, it is imperative that we understand how our teaching supports our students’ learning and what is and isn’t working. We also have to improve our efforts, individually and collectively, as responsively as we can.

Given that, and the stress of the current situation, below are some suggestions for assessing your students’ learning – this year and beyond.

It’s all about the outcomes. 
  • Go back to your learning outcomes, where you’ve articulated the learning you desire and expect from students in your courses and in your programs. Make sure they still accurately reflect your learning goals for students. As you transition your courses online and grapple with modifying how you deliver your content and your assignments, now is a great time to see if your learning outcomes really match what you think students absolutely must learn.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. 
  • Focus on what’s important and be flexible elsewhere – with yourself and your students; there’s almost certainly going to be increased demands on your time if only to navigate all the complexities that come along with teaching during a pandemic. As an instructor, you know what the priorities are. Focus your assessment on those priorities. You may have had a great plan to assess a specific outcome in a particular way this year, but if it’s not a priority, allow yourself the leeway to shift and adapt – especially if it doesn’t seem manageable. Don’t feel obligated to use the same approach just because it has worked in the past. And remember that students may feel overwhelmed, just like the rest of us. Continue to be compassionate and consider exploring new ways for students to demonstrate their learning.

Phone a friend. 
  • There are a lot of resources at WVU to support you and a lot has been specifically done to support all of WVU’s instructors during COVID-19. I encourage you to take advantage of all of those resources. With regards to assessment, feel free to reach out to me or Robynn Shannon, director of assessment support, for guidance. We will be hosting several informal assessment “drop-in” sessions this year to discuss topics ranging from retooling a course assignment and rethinking learning outcomes to mapping program curriculum or developing a BOG program review. Details about these sessions will be coming soon. We also are planning a curriculum mapping workshops for the spring semester and will announce the dates once they are scheduled. And always remember that the WVU Teaching and Learning Commons is available for assistance with teaching and course design. Together, we are all here to help you help our students learn.