Assessing Student Learning

My teaching philosophy can be distilled to fostering intellectual curiosity and engagement, honing analytical thinking and problem solving techniques, refining written and oral communication skills, helping prepare students for likely careers, and imparting a similar excitement and appreciation of the relevance of their economics studies to public policy, particularly as engaged citizens. My philosophy toward assessment of student learning reflects these priorities, most notably that assessment should be reverse engineered from desired learning outcomes and skill development. (See Course Design & Planning for an example of desired learning outcomes).

Beyond course-specific learning outcomes, I want to help all students hone their ability to clearly communicate complex analytical concepts, which spans well beyond the typical purview of problem sets and in-class exams. And I staunchly believe that clear, effective writing is a fundamental, requisite skill that every university graduate should possess. Contrary to my undergraduate experience, many economics departments do their students a disservice by eschewing writing in their undergraduate curriculum.

An authentic assessment essay on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will help bring the first four of these learning objectives together, by applying the measurement and theory they’ve learned to a concrete policy question regarding the advisability of implementing an enacted counter-cyclical fiscal stimulus package during the Great Recession. This assignment will also require students to collect, plot, and interpret relevant time series data—a very useful skill for entry level positions for many economics majors—to advance another course learning goal. The essay will also require an early draft to be submitted for peer review in order to practice giving peer feedback, afford students a new lens to thinking about their own draft as they review their peer’s, and help improve the quality of their writing. (Sample Recovery Act Essay Prompt.)

A rubric is intended to help guide students in drafting their essays, and to provide some structure and guidance in giving constructive feedback on the first peer draft. I will later use the same rubric to grade their final submissions. (Sample Recovery Act Essay Rubric.)

I also view examinations and problem sets as useful tools for student assessment, particularly for students to demonstrate comprehension of the course material and applications to novel problem extensions. Well-constructed exams should advance learning outcomes, particularly the development of analytical thinking and problem solving skills, as opposed to rote memorization. Short, periodic problem sets should also be used to provide practice for such problem solving techniques and regular feedback to students regarding their comprehension and approach to solving problems, as well as structure to help keep students on top of the course material and provide.