Students demonstrate their learning through assessments. As such, assessments should align with (intended) course learning outcomes. For example, if a learning outcome was, “Order the stages of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” an appropriate assessment could be a matching or labeling question. If instead the learning outcome was, “Explain the relationship between the stages of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” then an appropriate assessment might be an essay question or a diagraming project. Although the subject of both learning outcomes is the Hierarchy of Needs, the assessments are measuring very different behaviors: ordering versus explaining.
Note: For learning outcomes that use the word understand, ask yourself, “How will students demonstrate that they understand...?”
As a rule, use standard objective questions (e.g., multiple-choice, T/F, fill-in-the-blank, and matching) for frequent, low-stakes quizzes to test for less complex learning outcomes, such as identify, define, and recognize. For higher-order thinking, such as compare/contrast, apply, and predict, use essay or other open-ended questions, or even papers or projects.
From an assessment to an assessment strategy
Each assessment is only a snapshot, so a diverse assessment strategy made of high- and low-stakes assessments of varying forms will often give the most comprehensive picture of student learning. For example, you might consider:
- assessing lower-order learning outcomes through weekly, low-stakes quizzes to help students stay on track and accountable for reading and other materials,
- using a group project to assess how students apply course concepts,
- then have a final paper (a draft and final copy) where students synthesize material and create new knowledge.
Combined with classroom and/or online discussion, this mix of 1. high- and low-stakes, 2. individual and group, and 3. immediate and long-term should provides a wide measure of learning.