Monday, November 2, 2009

Designing Assessments for Project Based Learning

You have developed your big idea and polished the driving question, now for the most important aspect of Project Based Learning - planning the assessments. The project based learning design process concludes by developing a plan to assess whether learners are able to demonstrate the instructional objectives you set out for to begin with by completing one or more projects. I consider this to be the most important part of the design process because it is where you evaluate whether the lesson was successful or not. In this post I highlight some best practices that will help you ensure a successful project based learning assessment.

1. Demonstrates Objectives
It seems obvious that your project based learning assessment must require learners to demonstrate the performance described in the instructional objectives but it can be easy to become carried away with a creative project and lose sight of your goals. A great way of ensuring that the assessments demonstrate the objectives is to design an assessment where learners complete the actual task or project that they will be required to complete on the job. Yeah, it may seem boring to just have learners simulate what they have to do on the job but this is a great way to ensure that they have learned something that will truly improve their performance. If the learner comes back to work from the lesson with a task completed then you already have a return on investment to point to.

2. Scaffolded
It is often more effective to scaffold project based lessons to include multiple assessments or projects. I recently designed a project based lesson that gradually built on the learners skills by including an assessment at the beginning, middle, and end of the project. The assessments at the beginning and middle of the project provided the opportunity for a formative assessment where the learners can be given feedback as the project progresses, while the assessment at the end provided the opportunity for a summative assessment where the learners can be given a culminating appraisal of their performance. Scaffolding the project so that it builds up to a final assessment that represents a blend of all the content covered in the project ensures that the learners have improved over time and achieved the instructional objectives.

3. Able to Assess
Some of the greatest assessments for project based learning can also be the most difficult to assess. It's easy to give a test where each question is worth a certain amount of points but when it comes to assessments where learners are completing a project it can be difficult to measure exactly how well the learner performed. A great way of overcoming this obstacle is to create a rubric to use as a scoring guide. A well written rubric not only helps the facilitator score the assessment but it also helps the learner understand what is expected of them and serves as a guide for their project. Rubrics are a great tool that I think may be underutilized in the corporate world. There is a lot of information available that will help you create rubrics so I am not going to dive into the details here. The links below will take you to a couple of sites that will help you get started creating rubrics and to an example of a rubric I created for a project based lesson.
  • Creating Rubrics - This link takes you to which has a variety of resources for creating rubrics.
  • My Example - This link will take you to an example rubric that I created for a project based lesson.
  • MS Office Template - This link will take you to a template for a rubric on the MS Office site.
These are just a few of the best practices that I have developed in the short amount of time I have been developing project based learning in a corporate environment and should by no means be considered an all inclusive list of best practices. I would love to improve upon the tips I have in this post with your suggestions. My next post will conclude the project based learning series by summarizing the posts into a "quick guide" for developing project based learning. If you have any ideas or tips that will help others maximize the effectiveness of project based learning please leave a comment so that others can benefit.

  • Buck Institute for Education. (2003) Project Based Learning: A guide to standards focused project based learning. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education.
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