Classroom assessment is both a teaching approach and a set of techniques. The approach is that the more you know about what and how students are learning, the better you can plan learning activities to structure your teaching. Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) were developed by Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross (1993) as mostly simple, non-graded, anonymous, in-class activities that give both you and your students useful feedback on the teaching-learning process.

CATs differ from tests and other forms of student assessment in that they are aimed at course improvement, rather than at assigning grades. The primary goal is to better understand your students’ learning and so to improve your teaching.

Using CATs is a three-step process – Plan / Implement / Respond

  • Decide what you want to learn from a classroom assessment.  Choose a Classroom Assessment Technique (CAT) that provides this feedback, is consistent with your teaching style, and can be easily implemented in your class.
  • Explain the purpose of the activity to students, then conduct it.
  • After class, review the results and decide what changes, if any, to make.  Let your students know what you learned from the CAT and how you will use this information.

The book by Angelo and Cross contain fifty CATs which can be used for assessing prior knowledge or assessing student skills.  A number of these time-tested CATs can be modified for use with an online class:

Minute Papers

In class, faculty typically use the final few minutes of class to collect their students responses to two questions: (1) “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and (2) “What important question remains unanswered?”  This could be adapted to an online class by using either the survey tool or an online polling tool to collect this data.

Muddiest Point

This simple technique asks students to identify the muddiest point in a ________ (lecture, video, powerpoint, discussion, homework assignment, etc.).  You could use discussion board or a blog to post the question and gather the responses.

Pro Con Grid

Developing both pros and cons to an issue helps students see that there are two sides. You could use a wiki or Google Doc and have students develop a grid of pros and cons (or pluses and minuses) around the topic of interest being discussed in your class.

One Sentence Summary

This technique challenges students to answer the questions “Who does what to whom, when, where, how and why?” about a given topic, and then to synthesize their answer into a single informative (albeit long) sentence.  This could be required after an assigned reading but before discussions on a topic.

Student-Generated Test Questions

One of the best ways to determine if students understand a concept is to have them write test questions and model answers

Classroom Opinion Polls

In situations where you may have a bipolar set of opinions, it is helpful to surface that in a non-threatening way.  Anonymous online polls can be used to gather and demonstrate the two sides without revealing individual attitudes.

Electronic Feedback

You can use the mail or message feature of your LMS to, on the fly, pose a question about how the online course is going and invite students to provide feedback.  One of the authors of this resource guide typically sends this to students after the first two modules to see if the online format is challenging student, and if so, what changes could be made mid-course to improve learning.

These are seven of the fifty techniques described by Angelo and Cross.  See also this post by Brenda Thomas on CATs in the COVID-19 crisis.

For faculty, more frequent use of CATs can:

  • Provide short-term feedback about the day-to-day learning and teaching process at a time when it is still possible to make mid-course corrections.
  • Provide useful information about student learning with a much lower investment of time compared to tests, papers, and other traditional means of learning assessment.
  • Help to foster good rapport with students and increase the efficacy of teaching and learning.
  • Encourage the view that teaching is a formative process that evolves over time with feedback.

For students, more frequent use of CATs can:

  • Help them become better monitors of their own learning.
  • Help break down feelings of anonymity, especially in larger courses.
  • Point out the need to alter study skills.
  • Provide concrete evidence that the instructor cares about learning.