This is the final post in a 3-part series on assessment in project-based learning at the post-secondary level. Part 1, Assessing Project-Based Learning in the College Classroom, introduces why we need to assess PBL in an authentic way, and why assessments need to be modified for a college population.

Part 2, Formative Assessments for PBL in the College Classroom, provides ideas and tools for evaluating students’ progress and learning along the way. 

In this post, we’ll take a look at how to award grades to students for project-based work, and I’ll provide some examples of tools you can modify for use in your own classrooms.

Summative Assessments will contribute to the student’s final grade and so need to be as clear and objective as possible. Ideally, students should know exactly how they will be assessed from the outset of the project. Students should also participate in defining the assessment criteria for the project.

One challenge with grading PBL is that group work needs to be evaluated in a way that’s fair to the individual students. In many colleges, it is a clause in the institutional evaluation policy that group work must be graded individually. Teachers, therefore, must determine what each student contributed to the project so that she can be graded fairly.

Co-assessment. This is a combination of self- and teacher-evaluation. This allows a student to discuss with the teacher why she deserves a certain grade. The teacher and student might use the same grading rubric, but the teacher has a say in the final grade. Some educators ask the student to “negotiate” for a grade, using examples from their work to prove what they did and how it allowed them to meet the criteria.

Reflective journals. Guided journaling can provide insight into group dynamics and into the learning process of an individual student. I like to use a combination of long-form, infrequent reflections (with suggested topics) and shorter, weekly progress logs. An example of an individual weekly progress log is in the Tools section below. Topics to explore in weekly journals or in reflections include:

  • Challenges & how you overcame them (gives insight into perseverance)
  • Learning of core concepts: link learnings to competency elements or content indicators
  • Link learning to the project’s driving question
  • Discuss progress, setbacks, goals accomplished, new goals

Some questions for deeper reflection are useful, as well. These questions can be used less frequently than the learning log and should be longer and better developed. A list of sample questions is in the Tools section, below. Some examples:

  • What makes an effective team member? What makes an effective team? What strengths does your team have? What weaknesses? How can you overcome the weaknesses in your team?
  • Share an example of a time you’ve been creative during the project. Discuss why you think you were creative, and how it helped your team and your project.

Rubrics (performance assessments). Rubrics allow a higher degree of objectivity on the teacher’s part and also allow students to see exactly how they will be getting their marks. In PBL, since much of the learning is student-driven, students should contribute to the development of summative evaluations. As a team, they can reflect on what they hope to learn through the project, as well as what criteria their product will meet. They can tie course content indicators or competency elements. This process will help them to become more responsible for their own learning, since they will be setting their own goals to meet their own criteria.

The rubrics should focus on the process as well as the product. In order to evaluate a students’ learning process, collaboration, perseverance, etc, the learning journals and weekly progress logs are essential. In the Tools section I have included a project rubric that I have adapted from the Buck Institute for Education. This rubric requires students to fill in the sections pertaining to their product and to the overall project.

End-of-project interviews conducted with the team and with individuals allow the students to discuss their product outcomes, key learnings, challenges, collaboration, personal contribution, etc. Using the rubrics, students should be able to provide examples to justify the grade they believe they deserve. A formative version of this “exit interview” can be done at the midway point of the project or any time the group needs a check-in.

Other ways to evaluate

Each project will have a final product, and part of PBL is presenting the product to an authentic audience outside the class. This presentation can be evaluated for part of the course grade.  The presentation does not have to be a traditional one, live in front of an audience. It can be any way of diffusing the product to the intended audience. Students might choose to use blogs, podcasts, film, webcasts, or other, more global diffusion methods, depending on who and where their audience is! An example of a presentation rubric is below in the Tools section.

I have also required students to write a paper incorporating any research they did, describing their project, their goals, their learning and the results of their work. This is also a place for them to discuss current literature or research on the issue and allows them to show critical thinking and appropriate selection of references. It also allows them to discuss the impact the project had on their intended audience. I have evaluated the paper separately for a part of their final grade. The evaluation criteria I used can be found in the Tools section below.

These evaluation tools are only a few of many that can be used to authentically assess PBL. The important things to keep in mind is that assessment needs to be ongoing, and reflect the process of learning and not simply the success or failure of the final product. Designing evaluations to assess 21st century skills, mastery of the learning process, and the ability to create new knowledge and impact intended audiences will allow teachers and students to reap the benefits of this deep-learning pedagogy.


Tools

Attached here are a few examples of assessments I’ve developed for a course in Adventure Tourism called Adventure Tourism Project. Feel free to use them, modify them, or just be inspired! When you click on a tool, it will end up in your downloads folder. It’s yours!

Weekly Learning Log.Individual This learning log template can be modified depending on the criteria you wish to evaluate in the final rubrics. It is designed to be a short reflection for each student to do on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

Reflection Journal Sample Questions Some sample questions for longer, more personal reflections to be done on a less-frequent basis than the weekly learning log. Feel free to get creative with your own questions, or ask the students for suggestions!

Project Rubric Master 2.0  is based on PBL rubrics from The Buck Institute for Education (bie.org) and has been adapted for a college population and for my specific course in Adventure Tourism, using competency-based education, and for use with student-led driving questions (as opposed to teacher-proposed questions). This rubric requires students to add criteria relevant to their product and to the overall project.

Presentation & Communication Rubric Master : a rubric from BIE.org for presentations

Final Paper evaluation : the evaluation criteria and expectations I used to grade the final paper.

Holly McIntyre teaches Adventure Tourism at the CEGEP de la Gaspésie et des Îles in Gaspé, Québec. She can be found on Twitter @HollyMcBaz.

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