On April 28, I attended the Rutgers-Camden Faculty eLearning Conference. The event showcases faculty use of instructional technology in specific, concrete ways.   This year, many presenters demonstrated alternative tools for gauging and assessing student learning— without using exams!

The Flipped Classroom

Sessions by Tim Knievel, Sarah Allred, and James Genone dealt with faculty teaching in “flipped” classrooms. In a traditional classroom format, students listen to lectures in class, and then engage with course materials at home through homework, discussions, or research. In a flipped classroom, students watch lecture material at home.  In class, they engage with that material through activities such as group discussions or projects. Faculty reported that students were very happy with this model. Both students and faculty felt that watching video lectures at home was a better overall use of their time, and freed faculty members to spend class time clarifying lecture or reading content.

Instructors pushed as much passive learning materials as possible outside the classroom.  As a result, they could take advantage of time in class to assess students’ understanding, answer questions, and facilitate students’ engagement with the material.

Take a Poll:  Who is Paying Attention?

Faculty using the flipped classroom approach had one common question: How can instructors ensure that students are watching the lecture material at home? And, more importantly, how can they assess how well students understand those lectures?

Some faculty use polling tools to assess student understanding. Two of the more popular polling tools mentioned were Socrative and PollEverywhere. Socrative requires an instructor to create a free account, which provides them with a unique classroom code; students enter that classroom code and a display name (no account necessary) to participate. The instructor can set the student responses to be anonymous or non-anonymous (by using students’ display names). PollEverywhere is similar, except that its responses are always anonymous, and rather than being web-based, students submit their responses via text message.

But besides providing a means for ensuring students have watched the lecture material, polling questions can also be used in other ways. Polls can emphasize a teaching point (to demonstrate a misconception, for example), or gather student input or opinion, especially about controversial topics which may embarrass or intimidate students from expressing themselves out loud in class.  In these cases, the anonymous setting comes in handy!

Integrating technology into your classroom doesn’t have to be hard. Starting with a small, focused effort such as polling can add some engaging interaction with students.

Online Presentations

One faculty member that integrated technology very well into her course was Dana Pilla, a Spanish teacher. Although many people could never imagine taking a language course fully online, Dana is committed to making it work. Rather than simply make the course about learning how to write Spanish, she assigns VoiceThreads and Prezi presentations to assess students’ speaking ability as well. She takes the time to provide feedback to each student, which had a direct positive effect on students. The VoiceThread presentations were their favorite part of the course because they received individual feedback.

Exams are one way, but not the only way, to assess student learning. Providing a wide variety of assessments within your existing course, or even flipping your entire classroom, can give you a better picture of individual student progress, increase student engagement, and lead to better overall outcomes for your students.

For more information about the conference, including a schedule of speakers, check the IDT website. The Rutgers-Camden Faculty eLearning Conference was coordinated by Christie DeCarolis. Emily Corse and Christie DeCarolis are instructional designers on the Rutgers-Camden campus. For more information, check the IDT website.

This post originally appeared on Rutgers’ OIRT Blog on May 7, 2015.

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