Student Assessment: In Theory and In Action

By Ashley Weleschuk, TI Undergraduate Student Research Assistant

Gabrielle Lindstrom and Lynn Taylor, former vice-provost (teaching and learning) completed an extensive literature review on the topic of student assessment. They focused on research discussing assessment in general that could be applied to any discipline. Their findings were summarized into eighteen distinct principles, which are detailed in the Taylor Institute Guide Guiding Principles for Assessment of Students’ Learning. These principles provide important background information for instructors looking to develop effective assessment methods for their courses. However, with just the theory, there is a practical component missing.

Keeping it Practical

The long list of principles can be quite intimidating. There is a lot of great research to look into, but an instructor may not know how to apply it to their own teaching. Examples of assessment strategies that relate to the principles can help mitigate this initial apprehension. The website Principles and Practices of Student Assessment is a collection of assessment methods being used by instructors at the University of Calgary. The website features blog-style posts that focus on the assessment strategies used in specific courses. There are posts from a range of disciplines, levels and class sizes. Each one relates back to one of the Principles of Assessment, providing an example of that principle in action. Several of the principles have multiple examples associated with them, demonstrating how different assessment methods can achieve the same goal. For example, one of the principles is “Assessment strategies are authentic in that they reflect the work of our disciplines and respect the integrity of epistemologies” (Lindstrom, Taylor and Weleschuk, 2017). The strategies associated with that principle include a marketing campaign assignment in a consumer psychology course, as well as an electrical engineering design project.

Voices from Across Campus

We interviewed more than 20 instructors and professors at the University of Calgary for the website. Each individual had a unique perspective on student assessment and provided her or his own personal practices and insights. They were asked to share the details about what they do to assess student learning — how they do it, why they do it, and whatever results they found. Each interview was turned into one or two of the website posts. There is a huge range in the types of strategies used, from term-long group projects to three-minute pop quizzes.

When deciding on who to interview, we looked to the University of Calgary’s teaching and learning community. Many of the instructors featured in posts are involved in the Taylor Institute, through the Teaching Academy, Teaching Scholars, grant program, or through teaching in the TI spaces. Others were found at the recommendation of their colleagues or students. All of the instructors were incredibly enthusiastic about the project and were excited to share their assessment strategies. Many of the posts include course outlines, rubrics, and sample assignments that the instructors wanted to share along with their ideas.

Learner-Focused Assessment

As the website continued to grow over the summer, one major theme emerged: assessment promoting student learning. Whether it was through training teaching assistants to better assess physics laboratory work or helping history students self-assess their essay writing, every instructor highlighted a desire for student success and learning. Even instructors who use more traditional assessment methods, such as multiple choice exams, note that they deliberately chose those methods because they fit best with the course structure and goals.

The intention of this website is to provide teaching staff with inspiration and ideas about the assessment of student learning. While each post focuses on a particular class, many of the strategies can be applied to different classes and disciplines. Many of the instructors stated that their chosen assessment methods have developed and improved over several years and will continue to change. Assessment is an ongoing process, and this website, along with the corresponding TI guide, hopes to provide a good starting point.


Lindstrom, Gabrielle, Taylor, Lynn, Weleschuk, Ashley. “Guiding Principles for Assessment of Student Learning” Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning Guide Series. Calgary, AB: Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary, June 2017.

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