Teaching Hub

This Professor Likes CATs (classroom assessment techniques)

Spock does mind meld on Nixon

by Nathan Loewen, Department of Religious Studies

I am going to write about measuring teaching effectiveness. There is a lot of buzz about metrics in higher education media, but not until the mind-meld app is released for iOS will teachers know what their students are thinking.

One of the challenges of teaching a large-enrollment course is to regularly determine the level of students’ learning. In a recent article on crafting introductory courses, Russell McCutcheon names this “the double-edged sword of engagement and assessment. Teachers of large courses must balance the trade-off between managing all the data potentially generated by formative and summative assessments. The typical answer to the problem is to implement the multiple-choice test. Before that test, however, wouldn’t it be nice to know more about students’ learning?

The strategy I propose is likely the closest teachers will get to real-time mind-melding: become a CAT lover (and I’m not talking about the chemistry cat meme).

Nyan cat gif

There are plenty of reasons to use Classroom Assessment Techniques. In brief, CATs are simple in-class activities that are typically anonymous and always have no grades attached. Lasting only minutes, they are ideally designed to use class time sparingly. There are possible circumstances where a long-duration CAT may be useful (e.g., prior to that multiple-choice test). The exercise could be as simple as having students write down a response to prompts, such as

As long as you can articulate short questions about some aspect of your course, then you can create a CAT. The specific type of CAT you use will depend upon what you wish to know (such as these suggestions from the George Washington University and Carnegie Mellon).

Once you get started with CATs, you may never stop!

Photo by Kevin Dooley / Flickr Creative Commons