Today on Teaching & Learning Champions, we’re joined by Michelle Fitzpatrick, Assistant Dean of Faculty Development. We’re talking about the use of alternative assessments through remote teaching.

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Episode Transcript:

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[Matthew Evins:] Welcome to another episode of Teaching and Learning Champions. I’m Matt Evins, Director of Academic Technology in the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division at ACC. Before I introduce our special guests, as a new year kicks off and we start ramping up for the start of the spring semester, I want to make sure you know about TLED. Teaching and Learning Excellence Division employees are dedicated to instructional support and innovation. We exist to champion ACC faculty as partners in the strive for student success. Our vision is for Austin Community College faculty to lead as a model of teaching and learning excellence in higher education. We serve as frontline faculty support, development experts and your teaching and learning champions. You can learn more about us on our website at And we look forward to working with you. Today I’m joined by Michelle Fitzpatrick, Assistant Dean of Faculty Development, as we talk about the use of alternative assessments through remote teaching. Michelle, thanks for joining today.

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] Hi, Matt. Thank you so much for having me and happy new year to you and our faculty and staff here at ACC.

[Matthew Evins:] Yeah, same to you. Did you have a good break?

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] It was, very relaxing break. Low key this year. So we got to enjoy that time while we have it.

[Matthew Evins:] Yeah. And, you know, first day or two back got to, you know, hit the ground running with everything that’s going on.

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] Yes.

[Matthew Evins:] All right, so let’s jump into some questions that I know some of our faculty members are interested in hearing more about. Obviously, the topic today is alternative assessments. And this has especially come up as a result of COVID and the shift to online teaching and learning. Let’s start with just a quick definition for those who might not be familiar with the term. How would you define alternative assessments?

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] So let’s, first, I think it’s best to explain what we think of as traditional assessments. And traditionally we consider quizzes and exams really being that go-to when we think about assessments. And when we’re doing that, we’re learning through research that having traditional quizzes and exams can really cause high levels of stress. And they might not be truly effective at measuring deeper learning. So that’s where we’ve been looking more in this term of “alternative assessments.” Where we’re moving away from assessments that are focusing too heavily on memorization. And assessments that are not incorporating the student voice or choice. And don’t really allow for redemption, revision or deep reflection opportunities. So what alternative assessments are doing is going beyond acquired knowledge that can be demonstrated through your traditional tests and exams and now focusing on what the students actually learned through demonstration of an application of this knowledge. Is that encompassing everything you’re looking for? Do you want me to explain a little bit more, Matt?

[Matthew Evins:] I mean, I certainly understand if you want to go deeper into it. I’m certainly not going to stop you.

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] I mean, I guess sometimes, when I hear folks talking about alternative assessments, there’s confusion of maybe it sounds more complicated or, to do. And once we realize some examples of it, see what other folks are doing and utilizing all the technologies we have, I think it comes a lot more naturally to us than we even realize as faculty. And the key in here is understanding the difference of formative versus summative assessment. So when we’re thinking about alternative assessments, most faculty are probably already using them or already doing them a lot when it comes to formative assessment. And formative is really a low-stakes assessment. Where we’re doing, maybe we’re asking questions in class. Where you are having them do discussion boards; right? Or just where you’re touching base. Maybe they’re writing a one-minute paper when they leave the class of questions they still have or key topics they learned. The little things that we’re doing to test where they’re at. Then summative assessments are the, or the ways that we are assessing a larger amount of information and knowledge has been obtained in the classroom. And, traditionally, we’ve been doing that through exams and quizzes. But I’ll tell you what, I’ve had so much fun in this pandemic redesigning my classes to get rid of quizzes and exams. I know that sounds scary. And really get creative with alternative assessments. So hopefully through this time today we can chat a little bit about that.

[Matthew Evins:] That’s great. Thanks for that deeper dive. Can you talk a little bit about how the topic of assessments has been discussed around the college, especially since the start of COVID?

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] So one of the first things I noticed at the start of COVID when it came to assessment was a big focus on testing and how they could be proctored. And everything was very policy, procedure based. We’re running into lots of conversation on if it should be videotaped. And how can we validate that the assessment is ethical? And that was interesting as I was listening to these conversations. And ACC got very creative and offered different types of opportunities, if it’s through Respondus. ProctorU. And other options that our testing center was offering. But since then I’ve seen a number of faculty be a lot more interested in, well, what will else can I do besides my traditional exams and quizzes? How can I get away from this? And I’m really excited to hear that, because focusing on something so policy and procedure based doesn’t always seem very realistic in assessing knowledge for the long term. I mean, I guess I think about it as, if my boss every week said, okay, I’m going to give you a test or exam at the end of the week to see what you learned. It’s just not that realistic. And so where it’s been fun talking to faculty and getting folks to think outside of the box as to what would they be doing in the real world that could get us away from focusing so much on, are they cheating? And how are we going to watch them take the exam? Though, there are times in certain disciplines that this can be really hard to get away from. I completely understand that.

[Matthew Evins:] Great. What types of unique methods are used to assess student knowledge and skills when teaching online? You had mentioned that you’re, you know, you’ve been redesigning your own courses to move away from the traditional assessments. But what are some alternative assessments that could be used when teaching online?

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] That’s a great question, and there’s endless possibilities out there. Now, if we’re talking about asynchronous versus synchronous, we’re probably going to use different techniques. I had a new faculty member recently that I was consulting with, and they were telling me about how they were having trouble really connecting with their students and doing some low-stakes form of assessments in their asynchronous class. And they’re like, I’m just not seeing them on a regular basis, so it’s really difficult. So what they started using was VidGrid. And in VidGrid they paired it with Loom. And Loom is a way to have your video of yourself as the faculty member showing on the screen as you’re going through your slides. In VidGrid you can create questions within it as well that the students are answering. And it’s a really great low-stakes assessment. That was one recent one that we’ve had a lot of success with and gotten great student feedback. Other ways to do some low-stakes formative assessment, if you’re teaching synchronously, polling students during class. I ran a link, Pop-up Polls, all the time in the middle of my classes. And it keeps them engaged. I can see who’s answering what on the participant panel. It’s fun. Using Padlet. The college has an institutional license to Padlet. And it’s basically like, think if you have a whiteboard in the classroom, and you have students going up to write on the whiteboard. Or posting a lot of sticky notes on one large flip chart. On there they can post pictures. Links. Text. Audio. And it’s a great way to interact and do some low-stakes assessments. And a little bit more creative than your traditional discussion board, which is also another option. And journaling. Now, when it comes to summative assessments, some things that I’ve been doing and I know other folks have been doing as well is portfolio building. Having them develop portfolios using our Adobe products or Google Suite features to really put together something that’s going to be helpful for them in their career and long term and practical use of their skills that they’re gaining. Group projects that promote critical thinking. Case study analysis. Oh, my gosh, we did really fun debates in a legal class that I taught. And we did a lot of research for the debates. So there was a formal paper turned in. But then an actual debate online. And that was a lot of fun. Really interesting. And a great way for them to apply their skills and knowledge that they attained. So those are just a few examples for you.

[Matthew Evins:] That’s great. And we’ll talk in a little bit just about some of the help that you’re office, you know, the office of academic development can provide to faculty in helping think through some of these things.

But as they start thinking about, you know, like you did, redesigning the assessments that they’ve built into their courses. Whether it’s, you know, the online courses that they’re teaching or even as the college starts to reopen into the future. What are some things the faculty should think about or keep in mind when they’re developing these alternative assessments?

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] I think the first thing with any assessments is making sure that your assessments are meaningful. I mean, students know if it’s busy work. And we don’t want to grade busy work. So let’s make sure that, when we’re doing assessments, that there really is purpose and meaning behind it. An easy way to do that is, I’ve sat down and looked at my classes. Pulled out all of my assessments or questions to a test or exam I may have had. And I align it to my learning objectives. And there’s tends to be sometimes, at least personally for me, content that I’m more passionate about. And I find myself assessing them more on those topics. So it’s a good check for myself as a faculty member to make sure that I’m not over-assessing a particular learning objective. So that’s one good way to get started when you’re thinking about assessments in general. And then, if you’re looking at doing a large project, having students do a large group project, a portfolio one or anything that’s significant. Really consider scaffolding it. And what I mean by that is giving the project in chunks. So that there’s this first portion of it’s due here. And maybe at the first portion there is a peer review of it. So you can get some great feedback from their classmates. And then the next one you give a lot of really great in-depth feedback. And there’s time for reflection in that too before the final product’s done at the end of the semester. Scaffolding really helps bring everything together. And then you can align the assignments with the content you’re teaching at that time. And it makes it so it’s not too overwhelming for the students. Instead of that big project that they wait the night before maybe on the least week of class that avoids that situation from occurring.

[Matthew Evins:] Yeah, from an instructional design standpoint, I definitely like the idea of scaffolding. And especially what you mentioned about aligning each of the assessments with the learning objectives of the course certainly helps, not only take away from the busy work, but also helps clarify to the students why each assessment is important in the course. You know, if you build in what learning objectives you’re addressing with each of the assessments in your syllabus, for example, it’s a great way to build rapport and transparency with the students.

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] Yes, Matt, that’s great. Every time I write an assignment, in my description I say, this aligns to the following learning outcomes. And it’s for me and the students, for us to both understand and make sure that what we’re doing makes sense and there’s a purpose behind it.

[Matthew Evins:] Great. So for faculty who, so that was great information for faculty who are gung-ho and able to get started right away. For some faculty I imagine there will be some, a lot of questions. And so what types of services does the office of faculty development provide around the development of assessments?

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] Oh, that’s wonderful. Well, we want to help everybody with all things teaching and learning; right? And our office and other parts of TLED can assist with this too. When it comes to assessments, I’d say that the very first thing is, that’s easy is just get your feet wet by going to a workshop around it; right? A topic interests you. And at spring development day, there’s an entire tract on assessments. That’s there for you. And then another thing we can do is one-on-one consults. Let’s connect, talk about the way that you’re teaching. What your outcomes are. What you want your students to really grasp and understand when they leave your class. And then let’s brainstorm creative ways to do that. And it’s actually a lot of fun and makes grading and teaching a lit bit more interesting too as opposed to doing things the way that we’ve always done them. So we have the consults. Workshops. Through our on-boarding, we do a lot with alternative assessments and assessments in general. So all of our new faculty are receiving training on that information. And you can even request for us to come to your departments and help you as a department on these topics. And we do work closely with other departments at the college as well, such as Ron Johns’, through institutional effectiveness and assessment too. In other areas in TLED, we have instructional designers. So we’re all here to help out.

[Matthew Evins:] Great. Well, it sounds like there’s a lot of resources available for faculty who need to get, need help getting started. For faculty who do want to request that type of assistance in any of the formats you mentioned, where can they go to sort of initiate that request for support?

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] The best place to go that you will find everything faculty development related and support is Tled, T-l-e-d, And right there on our homepage is the link to teaching consultations. You might also want to look at some of the other links there. And if you look under development opportunities, on the far right under resources, there are NISOD, Starlink, all these other third parties that have webinars on these topics that might be of interest to you. Take a look at some of our programs that we have going on at spring development day. And under teaching excellence, look at what topics we have going on under our faculty interest groups. There is a faculty interest group running that has to do with assessments this semester. So take a look at that. Maybe get involved if you can and, if not, on future semester. Or develop an interest group of your own to get some help on rewriting assignments and being creative in assessment delivery.

[Matthew Evins:] Great. Well, Michelle, thank you very much for all this information today. Before I let you go, just wanted to see, granted this is the second day back from winter beak. So probably not a lot going on quite yet. But is there anything giving you Riverbat pride this week?

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] It is the second day back, so the catch-up is going on. And we are welcoming a whole new group of faculty this week. So I’m particularly excited about that. But yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from a newer department chair of the college that just had so many questions about ways that they could support their faculty and obtain some resources that they needed. And it led to us meeting and having a one-on-one conversation. And it was so exciting to have my first day back talking to a department chair who’s on, working a week before their contract starts and asking for all the ways they can support their faculty and help them be successful. And it just got me really nerdy and excited. So what awesome people that we work with here at ACC. And I’m very proud to be able to help support that.

[Matthew Evins:] Well, that’s a great thing to be prideful for. So, Michelle, thank very much, again, for joining me today. And have a great start to the spring semester.

[Michelle Fitzpatrick:] Thank you so much, Matt. And happy 2021, folks.

[Matthew Evins:] Well, that wraps up another episode of Teaching Learning Champions. Don’t forget that you can read episode transcripts on the TLED blog and find links to any resources we referenced during the show. I also encourage you to subscribe to the ACC district podcast on any of your preferred podcast apps. Or listen to individual episodes on the TLED website. You can learn more about the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division and keep up with everything relevant to the faculty experience at ACC by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. Simply text ACCTLED in all caps to 22828 to subscribe. And, of course, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at ACCTLED. Thank you for tuning in, and we’ll chat next time on TLC at ACC.

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