Using reflection documents to assess student learning

Traditional assessment methods such as tests and essays may not be adequate to evaluate students’ ability to solve problems and think critically. I developed a qualitative assessment technique for a junior-level Wildlife Management Techniques course that incorporated written responses in a pre- and post-course reflection exercise. I provided the students with three reflection documents: (1) an historic photograph of Nebraska waterfowl hunters, (2) a short reading from Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, and (3) a memo on wetland habitat management from a state wildlife agency. I evaluated students’ pre- and post-course responses to a series of questions about these documents. The precourse assessment was designed to allow me to determine what knowledge and skills students brought to course; the comparison of the pre- and post-course responses allowed me to determine whether their knowledge had increased during the course. When asked to explain what they knew about the documents, 88 to 96% of the students showed more in-depth understanding or enhanced critical thinking in their responses after taking the course. When asked what they found most interesting about the documents, 40 to 68% of the students increased in their use of proper terminology or other indicators of improved understanding. This assessment tool is flexible and directed at the student learning objectives for the course. As such, it may serve as a good complement to standard student evaluation forms.

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