Assessment was a brief topic of discussion at a recent meeting I had with the CIO. We were discussing the various methods of assessment in the LMS, when he told me that a one of our professors had announced that he never gives students quizzes, nor does he ever give written assignments or papers. He assesses his students solely through in-class discussions. My response was to ask “What is he assessing? What are the objectives for the course?”
A discussion may or may not reveal an individual’s knowledge on a particular subject. There are a number of factors that come into play depending on the nature of the discussion. Sometimes the confrontational or reticent nature of an individual has a much greater effect on their participation, than their knowledge. I can think of meetings I’ve attended, in which those individuals who always seek to be the center of attention, to have the final word, etc, are the ones who speak the most and the most loudly. They often do sound as though they know exactly what they are talking about, and perhaps they do, but there is little room for intellectual challenges. Those who prefer more civil discussions usually shy away from entering those sorts of debates. This is just one example of what might be measured in a discussion beyond knowledge, or even skill, but is this part of the assessment?
If this professor has the ability to create a discussion that measures exactly what he wishes to assess, with little or no factors that would skew those measurements, then perhaps the discussion would be a good assessment. Nevertheless, there should always be multiple assessments and multiple methods of assessment in any given course. We are all unique individuals, with our own histories and preferences. If we are not assessing those preferences, then they should not be a factor in the assessment–exactly why only using quizzes is also not a good way to assess students.
Creating assessments that truly measure the objectives they intend to measure, requires a thoughtful process and an understanding of human nature. We are always seeing multiple factors in any assessment, and we must recognize that so that we design assessments that, in the final sum, do show whether (and to what degree) a particular objective have been met.