The famous baseball player Cal Ripkin Jr. was known to hit 500 balls in practice per day. If he was working on the traditional model of higher education, his coach would watch him swing once, proclaim that he has the right technique, and have him move on to something else.
As teachers we tend to feel obligated to move through a new topic in each lesson. However, real learning requires repetition. There is no rule requiring faculty to cover a new subject in each class. Returning to former topics produces better learning than constantly moving to a new topic. Best of all, technology provides a number of ways to implement “rinse-and-repeat” teaching.
It is easy to forget that assessments produce learning as much as they measure it. Assessments force the learner to retrieve the information from his or her long-term memory, an act that hardens that learning into memories. The more the learner does this, the stronger the learning will be. Thus, multiple, distributed assessments on the same topic will produce better learning. Traditionally, faculty only assess students on what has been covered since the last assessment. A better method is to use weekly quizzes that test on all former topics.
Returning to prior topics in assessments also bring those topics to mind within the context of the current topic, which helps students see the connections between topics in class and the wider context of what they are learning. Context and connection are key elements in learning, and distributed assessment will help students build an interconnected and mutually supporting web of concepts that provides coherence and meaning to the course.
Using different types of assessments is also helpful. This forces students to retrieve the information in different ways, again hardening the learning in their minds. One way is to ask different question types on different quizzes, such as text-based questions on one quiz and image-based questions on the next. A literature professor might describe a literature device in one quiz and then provide an image that represents it in action in another quiz. This forces students to conceptualize the device in different ways, and the visual analogue helps them recall the device and apply it in future situations.
Faculty can use the quizzing feature of their LMS to run distributed assessments or any one of a number of free online systems such as Kahoot, Quizalize, Socrative, and Quizzy. Google Forms works well for image-based assessments, but so do Formative and Wizer. Moreover, a new Google Sheets add-on called “Flippity” makes it very easy to create online quizzes in different formats. Look at this tutorial on how to use it to create quizzes: https://youtu.be/MGztZiwOeLM.
Another option is to use entirely different types of assessments for the same concepts across time. Faculty already do this when they ask for an essay in one assessment and provide a multiple-choice test on the final exam. However, the options are wider than this. Digital Storytelling is a wonderful type of assessment that requires students to illustrate a concept through a video. The student creates a story by combining imagery with voice narration to create an interesting and engaging presentation. iMovie, which comes with any iPhone, makes it easy to build digital stories on cell phones. See the May 2016 issue of Online Classroom newsletter for more information on how to use Digital Storytelling assignments in teaching.
Faculty often give students only one chance at assessment, but much of what we learn comes from correcting our mistakes. Thus, a powerful teaching device is simply to require students to redo assignments until their performance reaches an acceptable level. For instance, the above-mentioned Flippity quiz system allows faculty to construct quizzes that require students to keep working on them until they get all of the answers correct.
An instructor can also require students to revise and resubmit their written assignments to fix problems the instructor has pointed out on the first submission. Simply circling writing mistakes does not teach students how to fix them. Forcing them to fix the mistakes does. It is helpful to require students to make their revisions with Track Changes so that the instructor can see which parts they have edited in the second version. When the faculty member brings up an issue in a margin comment, the student should be required to explain how he or she addressed that issue in the revision in a comment below.