CATs in the classroom

I spent the first two weeks of my upper level class on human rights facilitating discussion about relatively abstract questions – philosophical origins of human rights, distinctions in types of rights, and the universality of rights. These are important questions and form the foundation for the empirical questions the course will tackle the rest of the semester. They are, however, abstract and the students struggle with grasping “what am I supposed to get out of this”. To assess whether my learning objectives for the first two weeks of class cats-205606_1280were met, I turned to my trusty Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT) book and decided to try a new technique: the RSQC2. In brief, this assessment technique asks students to Recall (and rank in order of importance) important words or phrases from a particular class session (or in my case, a few class sessions), Summarize the terms, note one or two Questions the remained unanswered, Connect the terms to the overall course goals, and Comment on the course (e.g. “What I found most/least helpful was…”). The authors note that you can do all of the steps or select a few and also suggest extensions to the technique.

I reviewed the results and I think the exercise is going to be even more valuable that I had hoped. First, it served its role as an assessment. The students reflected and, in doing so, I could see that they “got” what I had hoped they would out of the first few classes. The major debates, questions, and concepts were reflected in their recall lists and their summaries were thoughtful. The questions they identified demonstrated not only an understanding of where we’ve been in the class, but some anticipation of where we will be going. Finally, the comments gave me an early insight into what is working in the classroom and what I might want to consider changing moving forward.

I reported back to the students in the next class to close the feedback loop. In all, I was happy to note that there weren’t any significant gaps between my learning objectives and the assessment data. After using this technique, I can see the value in using it as a regular assessment tool throughout the semester. It took about ten minutes in class, but that was time worth spent for the results.