The inquiry process offers an alternative means of thinking about assessment of student knowledge. How often do we assign the student a simple task such as to discuss things that they have learned from class?. This approach can be very humbling when we realize that the things they learned were not necessarily those things that we thought we were teaching.
Also, how often do we ask students to reflect on their learning, or ask them how they learned something or how that learning occurred? How often do we ask them to talk about or write about how they perceive the impact their learning has had on them, how they have changed because of their learning, or how their learning may impact them in the future? If we think about the inquiry process, reflection is a key component of success. However, it is rare to ask students to respond to reflective questions of this type, at least in science.
Over the last several years I have started having students in my courses maintain some sort of reflective portfolio. I ask them to address a series of questions periodically throughout the semester, including questions like the following (not necessarily using all of these in the same reflective assignment):
- Describe three (3) things about __[general topic]___ that you did not know at the start of this section of the course and that you know now. Write your description as if you were teaching a friend who knows nothing about this topic.
- How did you come to know these things or gain this new knowledge? Explain how your learning occurred.
- While you have learned a great deal about _______, hopefully you also appreciate that you have only scratched the surface of that subject. What aspect of ________ would you like to learn more about if you had the chance? What new questions do you have about the topic of ________? Explain why you find that especially interesting.
- What did you learn about yourself through participating in this _______ section of the course? How did you learn this about yourself?
- Learning is a very personal activity. As life-long learners, we should not take our personal learning skills for granted, but rather should be continually reassessing, refining and reflecting on those skills. From your involvement in the course to date, have you come to recognize learning skills that you feel you need to refine or improve? How might you go about making that change?
- What impact has your new knowledge had on how you think about or talk about _________ and related topics? Explain how this impact or change occurred.
Late in the semester, after having “trained” them that it is OK to respond honestly to the questions above, I ask them to complete a end-of-semester reflective assignment. Remember that this is a Lactation Biology course, and it involves a large proportion of group work and collaborative learning. In addition, we talk about concepts of learning styles, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and other aspects of learning.
Part A – what have you learned about lactation biology?:
1. What additional things have you learned during the semester about lactation biology that you did not previously realize when you started the semester?
2. Compared with your views at the beginning of the semester, describe your vision of the field of lactation biology now?
3. How have your experiences during this semester affected your view of lactation biology?
Part B – what have you learned about collaborative learning?:
4. Describe how participating in the various group activities (discussions, projects, etc) has affected the way in which you think or learn?
5. What value did you receive from partnering with other students in pursuing your learning in this course? Explain why this is of value to you.
6. How did partnering with other students affect your views on working collaboratively or in teams? Explain how this impact occurred.
Part C – what have you learned about yourself?:
7. What did you learn about yourself through participating in the various activities in this course during the semester? How did you learn this about yourself?
8. What impact has your new knowledge about yourself had on your views about learning and thinking? Explain how this impact or change occurred.
9. Earlier in the course you had identified one or more learning skills that you felt you needed to refine or improve. What have you done since that time to start the process of making that change and improving that skill(s), and have you made progress?
10. Considering your response to item #9, how will you keep up the effort to improve that skill(s) after this semester is over?
11. Would you consider a career that relates to lactation biology? In what type of such career(s) might you be interested? What type of preparation would you foresee as necessary for such a career(s)?
12. What have you learned about self-reflection as part of the learning process?
Responses to these types of reflective questions can make this whole exercise worthwhile. I learn a great deal about our students from these questions. Please use these ideas if you think they might be helpful in enhancing student learning in your courses.