Ready or Not, Our Students Have Arrived

Transcripts. Standardized tests. Entrance exams. Course prerequisites. Each serving as measurements to appropriately place and ensure that our students are entering our classrooms with the academic experiences, background knowledge, and skills required to succeed in our courses. But as many of us have experienced, it is bad practice to assume that is the case.  As instructors, we need to individualize lesson plans and teaching methodologies to reach students at varying levels of education. So how do we assess whether students have the baseline knowledge required for successful completion of the course? Online learning platforms, learning management system (LMS) tools, and more traditional assessment measures have proven to be quick and effective strategies to obtain that information.

  1. Online learning platforms

These are excellent tools for assessing a student’s knowledge when starting a course offered in any delivery method. Prerequisite reviews or pretests can be created in learning platforms that provide immediate results about a student’s existing skill level. The initial knowledge check-in McGraw Hill’s ALEKS® is a great example of such an assessment. The built-in analytics and reporting features provide great insight into the intellectual makeup of our students from the very onset.

  1. LMS (Learning Management Tools)

Another great tool that can be used for assessing students’ baseline knowledge. Quizzes, discussions, and other assignments can be created to measure a student’s preparedness. Similar to online learning platforms, the LMS provides immediate results and tools to evaluate and determine student performance before we begin to present course content.

  1. Informal assessment measures

These can also be used to determine students’ baseline knowledge. One-on-one instructor/student meetings, student instructional videos, or first-day-of-class activities (such as writing to a prompt or answering questions about prerequisite material), can give a very good indication of a student’s readiness to learn when they enter your classroom. Asking your students questions such as “what are your past experiences in (enter discipline here)?”, what is your comfort level with (enter discipline here)?”, or “what are your expectations of yourself in my course?” can reveal a great deal of baseline knowledge without asking specific content related questions. These assessment measures may also demonstrate our investment in their academic success as well as show our desire or interest to know them as individuals.

In conclusion, it is especially critical to determine the level of ability that each individual student brings with them into a course. We cannot assume that existing placement methods have appropriately or accurately measured a student’s baseline knowledge necessary for course success. To do so would hamper successful academic outcomes. A variety of computerized or non-computerized assessment methods can be utilized at the start of a course to evaluate the proficiency of a student. The sooner this information is obtained, the sooner remediation measures can be implemented, and teaching strategies can be adjusted. Ultimately with the goal of providing a student with the skills required to master the competencies of their chosen course. Only then can we and our students be sure we are ready.