The year is kicking off, training is in the rear-view mirror, Welcome Week has flown by, and we caught our breath as we said goodbye to summer with Labor Day. Now, we are looking at the experience we are offering our students this year and wondering: how am I supposed to assess these events we are hosting? Well, have no fear! The CATs are here!
Sadly, these aren’t your local fuzz balls that will purr on your lap. CATs are Classroom Assessment Techniques, these are quick and immediately useful assessment techniques that are used in K-12 and higher education classrooms. CATs are simple and immediate activities that will give your department useful feedback on the learning outcomes you are trying to meet. You can learn more about learning outcomes and how to write them here. CATs are best used for learning focused events instead of those that are meant to be strictly for social connection. I will share 4 CATs you can try out on your own campus along with an example of what it could look like in action.
One Minute Paper
The one minute paper is meant to be a written opportunity for your students to share what they learned during the experience you provided. You will create a purposeful question based on the learning outcome for your event and then you will ask participants to respond briefly in writing to it. When I say brief, I mean like a half piece of paper brief. Like 3 sentences maximum brief. This is best for learning outcomes at the remember and understand levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.
How do I do it?
Let’s say your department has a focus on students learning their leadership style and philosophy. You had an event that included residents taking the True Colors quiz. Toward the end of your event, you have them complete a one minute paper. You hand out half pieces of paper, something to write with, and put up this question on the board:
What is your True Color result and what does that mean?
You set a timer up for one minute and let student’s respond. They don’t write their name on the paper, they just put their responses. After one minute, you gather their papers and then wrap up your event. Following your event, you read through the responses and decide whether or not each participant was able to share their True Color result and what it means. Just like that, you are able to share (with specific examples if requested) how many students met this learning outcome. Bonus points if you have an attendance sheet and can then share a percentage of participants who were able to meet the intended learning outcome of the event.
The Muddiest Point
The muddiest point is meant to surface what students are still confused about or what is least clear. This can be really helpful when you are hosting a series that will build upon previous events. You will ask participants to write down what they found the least clear or most confusing about the learning outcome. Personally, I find an index card or a sticky note to be the perfect size of writing space for this activity.
How do I do it?
Let’s say your department is hosting a sustainability series over the fall semester for first year students to help them find ways to live more sustainably on campus. Your first event goes over the recycling system on-campus and how to separate the different types of recycling. Your students must understand this to be able to participate in the next part of the series where you will be brainstorming how to make the recycling system more effective. This means that the muddiest point is the best choice for a CAT.
At the end of the event, you hand out a sticky note and something to write with. Then ask students to write down what they are least clear about. They don’t write their names down on the index card, but they will hand in their index card as they leave. After the event, you will read through the index cards to see what questions surface most often. These questions will become the starting off points for your next event or you could send a follow up email providing the clarification. Ultimately, some type of follow up happens to provide clarification on the muddiest points before additional learning happens.
Application cards are meant to showcase how your students will apply their learning to their lives, this is a great way to assess your higher level learning outcomes that go beyond understanding and remembering. You will ask participants to write down one way they can apply what they learned during your event to their lives. I find an index card to be the perfect size for this CAT.
How do I do it?
Let’s say your department has hosted a bystander intervention event about how to step in when you see something that does not seem right. In this event, it is a priority that your students leave knowing how they can apply their learning into their life. This means an application card would be ideal.
Near the end of the event, you hand out an index card and something to write with to all your students. You then provide time for students to write down how they could apply what they learned today to their life and make sure they know they don’t have to write their name on the index card. It is important to note that this CAT will take longer than any of the others since it involves a bit more reflection. I would recommend saving 5 minutes in your timeline for this CAT. You would have them turn in their index card to a box. I would avoid collecting them directly from the students, since their application may be personal and we want to provide privacy for their application so that they can be as honest as possible.
Similar to the one minute paper, following your event you will read through the responses and decide whether or not each participant was able to share at least one way they will apply their learning to their life. And boom, you are able to share with specific examples how students will apply their learning about bystander intervention to their lives. With the addition of an attendance sheet you can also share the percentage of participants who were able to apply their learning from the event.
Raise Your Hand If
When hosting lower-stakes learning events that have a stronger focus on socialization, a few “raise your hand if” statements are a quick and easy way to see if your learning outcomes for the event were met. You will prepare up to 3 statements that students would be raising their hands for based on if they learned something during the event.
How do I do it?
Let’s say your department is hosting a bingo night that is laundry themed, where students will learn how to use the laundry machines in the hall and also best practices for doing laundry. Since this is a lower-stakes learning event, compared to something like bystander intervention, and is more social in nature, a few “raise your hand if” prompts will be a great CAT to use to assess student learning.
At the end of the event, you will get a piece of paper and something to write with yourself. You will get the group’s attention and ask them:
“Raise your hand if you learned something new about doing your laundry today.”
You will then count how many students raise their hands and write it down. You will then say:
“Thank you so much, let’s put our hands down! Now, raise your hand if you feel like you could explain to a friend how to do their laundry in our laundry machines.”
You will then count how many students raise their hands and write it down. If you are someone who will lose a piece of paper (like me), emailing yourself the numbers of students who raised their hands is also a good move. Beyond knowing how many students were able to meet your learning outcomes, if you have an attendance sheet, following your event you are able to know the percentage of students as well.
While these CATs may not have cuddled up on your lap, I believe they are a purr-fect fit for many Residence Life events and I hope you will too! These are just four examples of CATS, there are many more out there that you can adjust to fit into your event assessment plan. A quick Google search will bring forward thousands of resources, here are few of my favorites if you want to continue learning more: