How to Assess Sustained Learning

How to Assess Sustained Learning

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2271-3.ch004
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This chapter illustrates how to assess sustained learning. As an example, we will discuss how students assessed guided inquiry organic chemistry lab experiments at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs). Student learning occurs via many pathways. The instructors rise to this challenge by offering students diverse learning tools including lecture, Socratic dialogue, demonstrations, question/answer sessions, practice exercises, and laboratory instruction. At the conclusion of a first-semester Organic Chemistry I course, an assessment in the form of a questionnaire was utilized to develop critical improvements for the Organic Chemistry curriculum. The goal of this study was to expand our assessment of sustained learning processes especially as it relates to Organic Chemistry experiments at PUIs. Students assessed guided inquiry experiments by providing anonymous responses using I-Clicker electronic devices. The assessment questions were derived from the National Science Foundation’s approved assessment protocols, including the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG).

The success of promoting sustained learning among students is dependent on institutional and student effort and commitment to acquiring skills and attributes that enhance learning. Indeed, it would be difficult to know whether the sustained learning goals are being met or not unless a systematic assessment strategy is in place. Assessing institutional performance and student skills and dispositions for an informed decision making is crucial. Assessment which is both formative and summative is critical to sustained learning and it is important to identify and employ assessment strategies that will help in collecting meaningful and appropriate information. Clearly, assessment is a critical component for sustained learning.


Assessment is important to sustained learning because it indicates how college programs and initiatives are preparing students to be lifelong learners. Huba and Freed (2000) defined assessment as “the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences; the process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning” (p. 8). Assessment, therefore, will provide an understanding of student outcome relative to lifelong learning knowledge, skills, and disposition. Assessment will help the leaders know where students need assistance and programs and services the institution need to provide to enhance students acquisition of lifelong learning skills.

Program success is dependent on an on-going assessment activity and it is a crucial issue that institutions should be concerned about for improved and sustained quality services, programs, and experiences for students, staff, faculty, administrators, and the college community. The assessment does not only involve students, rather, all components or sectors of an institution should be continually assessed. Improvements can only be done when the institution knows where, when, how, and why to undertake the improvement initiative (Huba & Freed, 2000; Witkin & Altschuld, 1995).

Assessment can take different forms (Palomba & Banta, 1999) including formative, summative, and referencing. Formal/informal lifelong learning initiative leaders and constituents should engage in both assessments OF learning and assessment FOR learning. Assessment for learning provides information that can guide and help identify areas that students still need assistance. Assessment of learning will inform whether the students acquired sustained learning skills and dispositions or not. Assessment of learning will help college stakeholders understand whether the initiative is successful or not. Assessment FOR learning is similar to formative evaluation since it is ongoing while assessment OF learning is similar to summative evaluation.

This chapter will use guided inquiry organic chemistry lab experiments to illustrate how sustained learning can be assessed using effective processes, strategies, and principles.



To gain a deeper understanding of assessment concept relative to sustained learning, a brief discussion of the following issues will be presented: (a) assessment process; (b) assessment strategies; and (c) principles to guide in the assessment process.

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