This book, written before the heyday of the internet, can seem dated at times, but the principles it espouses are still applicable and the assessment techniques it proposes are still useful. It’s also well written, and this is not something I expected given the content. The authors could have chosen to dryly list and describe classroom assessment techniques, making this book nothing more than a reference work. It can still function as a reference, but it also provides compelling justification for using the techniques and it breathes life into what otherwise could have been a very dull read by infusing the book with case studies and examples.
The bulk of the book, 258 pages in my edition, is found in Part 2, in which the authors describe specific techniques. It would be tempting to simply put the book on a shelf, using it only when the need for assessment arises. One could imagine an instructor perusing the techniques looking for one that fits a particular situation, and missing the most important section of the book found in Part 1. Here, the authors make the case for performing assessments in the first place. One of their more compelling points is that classroom assessment should be viewed as ship navigation aids, helping the instructor and students sail smoothly toward the intended outcomes. The authors also make good use of graphics, particularly Figure 4.1, the “Map of the Classroom Assessment Project Cycle” in which they capture the key activities of an assessment project. I have to admit that I used one of the authors’ techniques for a previous class project, going directly to the technique without having read Part 1. In doing so, I missed the all-important context needed to perform an accurate and useful assessment. Finally, the authors provide a series of assessment examples from a variety of academic disciplines. As a context learner, I appreciated seeing how assessment works in the real world.
Part 2 contains the various techniques, grouped by Teaching Goals. As in Barkley’s Student Engagement Techniques, the authors provide extremely detailed descriptions of the techniques, illustrative examples of their uses, and the pros and cons. It would be impossible to commit every technique to memory, but the grouping by Teaching Goals allows faculty members to narrow their search for an appropriate technique by first considering the corresponding goal category. As with Barkley’s book, Part 2 can serve as a reference.
Finally, the authors include their own research and feedback from faculty members on the impact of the techniques on faculty members and students. This mirrors the authors’ admonition to always gather feedback from faculty members and students when using the techniques in individual classes. I’m not sure if the authors ever plan to publish a future edition, but if so, they should include academic research on their techniques from peer-reviewed sources.
I plan to use the resources in this book if I ever get the opportunity to teach again. Higher Education has placed so much emphasis on summative assessment, it seems that too little attention is paid to formative assessment tools which could improve student learning. This book should join Student Engagement Techniques and Nilson’s Teaching at its Best on every professor’s desk.