Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


Meaningful learning activities and assignments: A key to successful assessment

Posted on August 22, 2014 at 6:40 AM

If you’re giving students plenty of opportunities to achieve your key outcomes, assessment is easy: you’re already grading their work on those learning activities, so you already have assessment evidence in hand. When faculty struggle with assessing key learning outcomes, the problem is often that they’re not giving students meaningful learning activities to help them achieve those outcomes. If you want students to learn how to analyze information, for example, what kinds of learning activities do you give them to help them learn how to analyze information? Here are some tips:

• Start with the assignment’s key learning outcomes: what you want students to learn by completing the assignment.

• Explain to students why you are giving them the assignment—how the assignment will help prepare them to succeed in later courses, in the workplace, and/or in their lives. (Some students do better if they understand the relevance of what they’re doing.)

• Create a rubric to grade the assignment that reflects those key outcomes, with appropriate emphasis on the most important outcomes. (A recent study found that many faculty emphasize grammar at the expense of other skills.)

• Give the rubric to students with the assignment, so they know where to focus their time and energies.

• Consider alternatives to traditional papers. Students can share their analysis of information through a chart, graph, or other visual, which can be faster to grade and fairer to students who struggle with written communication skills.

• Point students in the right direction by giving them appropriate guidelines: length and format of the assignment, what resources they can use, who the assignment’s audience is, etc.

• Break large assignments into smaller pieces. Ask students to submit first just their research paper topics—if the topic won’t work well, you can get them back on track before they go too far down the wrong road.


The clearer your guidelines to students, the better some students will do, and we all know that an A assignment is a lot faster and easier to grade than a poor assignment. So this is a win-win strategy: as Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson say in their book Effective Grading, your students work harder and learn more, and you spend less time grading!

Categories: How to assess, Curriculum & teaching