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Guide to Contextual Learning Projects

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What assessment techniques will you use?

What assessment techniques will help you to assess individual student work as well as evaluate the success of the project overall? Approaches to assessment of student work include:

  • Reflective writing and journal writing;
  • Students creating a portfolio about the project (with photos, essays, spreadsheets, presentation materials, project timelines and notes and other materials);
  • Vocabulary quizzes related to the project;
  • Quizzes about background reading and lecture material;
  • Self-review of participation and outcomes of the project;
  • Peer review of final products;
  • Individual products such as students individually creating a garden design plan that was graded using a rubric; students creating Excel spreadsheets; students creating tri-fold display boards or PowerPoint presentations summarizing the project.

Evaluation of the success of the projects overall can include:

  • Surveys of participants;
  • Pre-program and post-program surveys;
  • Formal or informal feedback from participants;
  • Informal observation;
  • Formal or informal program evaluation tools.

Teachers and program leaders should consider different learning styles and learning needs when designing instructional strategies and assessment strategies for contextual learning projects. Some students like the break from routine offered by special projects, while others prefer (and sometimes need) the consistency of more traditional patterns of instruction and assessment.

A concern about project-based learning in the past has been that for some students, the assessment and grading of projects, with sometimes-unfamiliar assessment requirements can be frustrating and lead to poor outcomes. Even the most enjoyable project can lead to a sense of frustration if the student feels that the assessment is not consistent with their efforts or that they have not mastered the skills and knowledge that will be evaluated.

One advantage of contextual learning is that projects typically produce real products with real audiences, and so the effort put into a project is rewarded with the built-in feedback of project results and audience enjoyment. While not all projects are immediately perfect, students and instructors can see and evaluate effort, lessons learned and skills gained. Assessment can look at not only the quality of the finished product, but also the project management process (student effort, teamwork, reflection on the process) and the skills, background knowledge, vocabulary and concepts learned.