Assessment Equity and Alignment with Experiential Learning

When I met with Sandy and Harold I was stressed. I was worried that I was falling behind. After coming from a very busy workplace with many competing deadlines and defined work hours, starting a PhD program and having to manage my time independently is a huge challenge. Most days feel chaotic and I’m often overwhelmed. Being a student has given me space, mentally and emotionally, to think and to focus on my health. But this “room to think” can also be a dangerous thing. Sometimes hours, even days, slip by in an unfocused haze of meandering reading if I’m not careful. This skill of balancing time and energy is the true test of graduate school.

The chaos is exacerbated by the scope of my SOTL research. I often feel that I’m lost in a forest and blind to the connections, discourses, and secret paths within the literature. What has helped is staying in the meadow of multiple-choice questions. As I read more, I am beginning to create a complex picture of this learning and assessment modality. But before I made this decision, I wandered, as you’ll see.

I was getting tired of assessment, so I experimented with other search terms to see what I could find. I found Brunig’s article which brings together experiential education and critical pedagogy, both of which are challenging to implement in practice. Their discussion of their own practice is very helpful for those interested in using experiential learning and developing a student-directed classroom. Brunig makes a claim in their article that one of the aims of experiential education is the development of a more just world (p. 107). I was intrigued by this because I didn’t necessarily agree (although I believe this should be the goal of education in general). They referenced another paper when making this assertion which brought me to Itin. Itin’s article attempts to differentiate between experiential learning and experiential education. This paper is a good foundation for instructors who want to explore the philosophy of experiential education.

After this foray into more theoretical papers I decided to hold off on reading any more until I had spoken to Sandy and Harold. I wasn’t sure how far the group wanted me to go when it came to philosophy and theory. This was a good decision because the group agreed that they want to see more practical research and studies than theory.

The other articles can be summarized:

  • Bowen, C. discusses a college mathematics program at Haskell Indian Nations University. Of interest to mathematics educators are the handful of experiential activities provided by Bowen. Most of the activities are not suitable for large or mega class sizes (although there is the possibility of adaptation). Others such as narrative word problems or the Problem of the Week may be useful with larger classes.
  • Butler, A. C., Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. 3rd clearly describe the methodology used. Results of this study indicate that “delayed feedback produced better long-term retention than immediate feedback” (p. 279). What is interesting is that “there was no difference between the two types of feedback” (answer-until-correct and standard – correct or incorrect) (p. 279).
  • Clandinin, D. J. & Connelly, F. M. are two of the originators of narrative inquiry and their book offers researchers new to the methodology a guide to follow. From epistemological concerns to the nuts and bolts of how to actually do a narrative inquiry, this handbook is a wonderful starting point for those interested in this methodology.
  • Ernst, B., & Steinhauser, M. suggest that the P300 and early frontal positivity “are related to two different stages of learning. The P300 reflects a fast learning process based on working memory processes. In contrast, the frontal positivity reflects an attentional orienting response that precedes slower learning of correct response information” (p. 334).
  • Koretsky, M. D., Brooks, B. J., & Higgins, A. Z. very clearly outline their research design and methodology. Their findings “suggest that asking students for written explanations helps their thinking and learning, and we encourage instructors to solicit written explanations when they use multiple-choice concept questions”, p. 1761.



Bowen, C. (2010). Indians can do math. In P. Boyer (Ed.), Ancient wisdom, modern science: The integration of Native knowledge in math and science at tribally controlled colleges and universities (pp. 43-62). Salish Kootenai College Press.

Breunig, M. (2005). Turning experiential education and critical pedagogy theory into praxis. Journal of Experiential Education, 28(2), pp. 106-122.

Butler, A. C., Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. 3rd. (2007). The effect of type and timing of feedback on learning from multiple-choice tests. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 13(4), pp. 273-281.

Clandinin, D. J. & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. Jossey-Bass.

Ernst, B., & Steinhauser, M. (2012). Feedback-related brain activity predicts learning from feedback in multiple-choice testing. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci, 12(2), 323-336. doi:10.3758/s13415-012-0087-9

Itin, C. M. (1999). Reasserting the philosophy of experiential education as a vehicle for change in the 21st century. The Journal of Experiential Education 22(2), pp. 91-98.

Koretsky, M. D., Brooks, B. J., & Higgins, A. Z. (2016). Written justifications to multiple-choice concept questions during active learning in class, 38(11), pp. 1747-1765. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2016.1214303

This is part of a series of blog posts by Lindsay Tarnowetzki. Their research assistantship is funded by and reports to the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Aligning assessment and experiential learning cluster at USask.

Lindsay Tarnowetzki is a PhD student in the College of Education. They completed their Master’s degree at Concordia University in Communication (Media) Studies and Undergraduate degree in English at the University of Saskatchewan. They worked at the Clinical Learning Resource Centre at the University of Saskatchewan for three years as a Simulated Patient Educator. They are interested in narrative and as it relates to social power structures. Lindsay shares a home with their brother and their cats Peachy Keen and MacKenzie.

Image provided by Lindsay.

From Modelling to Designing Intercultural Curricula

You now know that you have pretty decent intercultural teaching capacities.

You have continued to develop an awareness of your own identity and are modelling perspective-taking. Students in your course have the opportunity to interact with different worldviews because you know that makes them smarter. You actively create opportunities to build relationships between ‘others’ and can recognize barriers to student participation – you’ve essentially mastered using your intercultural capacity to inform teaching practices. So now you must be wondering, “What’s next? How can I further internationalize in my course?”  No fear, you are not alone. Dimitrov & Haque (2016) have some suggestions for “curriculum design competencies”.

“Effective instructors are able to critically evaluate the curriculum and create learning materials that transcend the limitations of monocultural disciplinary paradigms, scaffold student learning so students have a chance to master intercultural skills relevant to their discipline, and design assessments that allow students to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways.” – Dimitrov, N., & Haque, A. (2016). Intercultural teaching competence: A multi-disciplinary model for instructor reflection. Intercultural Education, 27(5), 437–456.

Key questions to ask yourself on your internationalization journey:

  • Does my course syllabus have a specific learning outcome where a student is asked to demonstrate specific knowledge, skills, or attitudes of a global or international design?
  • Do all the authors of my selected articles look or sound like me and if so, why – and can I change this?
  • Are students asked to take different perspectives in assessed work (work that is evaluated for marks)?
  • Do students have any choice in their assessment? Are different communication styles encouraged?
  • Does my course allow students the opportunity to develop a more robust disciplinary identity aligned with their cultural or personal identity?

If answering these questions leaves you with more questions, it’s likely a good time for a conversation with the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning. We can help individually or direct you to one of our workshops to meet your needs.

Getting More Active (and getting more learning)

The holidays are a time of year that are almost inevitably followed by a feeling that you should be more active after all those treats and large meals.  Many educators want their students to be more active and engaged, but like the post-holiday feeling that you should be more active, it is hard to turn that good will into consistent action in your instruction.  This post focuses on easy changes to make your course more active.

Step 1- Clarify the purpose of active learning in your class
Active learning is time in your classroom when students are actively thinking, talking, and making sense of ideas.  It is contrasted with passive learning, when students are being receptive (listening, note taking, etc.)  An individual class is typically considered active when 60% or more of the time is students thinking and talking, rather than the instructor explaining. To get started with active learning, identify a key or threshold concept (Meyer and Land, 2003) that students need to understand well and use often, but seem to struggle with.  That’s a great place to focus on active learning, because active learning processes make it more likely your students will be able to retain and apply what they have learned.

Step 2 – Consider options
Before you make any type of change, you often need to consider possible options.  Start will some videos  or browse some resources and think about the strategies that might fit well given your content and discipline. It is essential that the specific strategy fit the concept you need student to make sense of, so you can’t just pick one at random.  For threshold concepts, strategies like error analysis, concept formation/concept attainment etc. are often the most effective.  If you’d like someone to help you consider some options best suited to you, but you don’t want to wade through the options, make a short appointment with Gwenna Moss. We’ll suggest some great options given what you explain about the concept that you are teaching and the size of your class.

Step 3 – Try something small

  1. Start by really clarifying how the process will work in your own mind.
  2. Identify what you’ll still need to teach directly so students have enough knowledge to do the active task.
  3. Choose a class you are comfortable in, and explain how important the concept is and why you’ll be using an active strategy.  If you haven’t used the particular strategy you are trying, explain the process and what behavior you’ll expect explicitly.
  4. Use the strategy, circulating to help or prompt students often.
  5. Once you are done with the activity, summarize the key takeaways and implications with your students.  Next time this key concept comes up, refer back to the activity and the lessons learned.  You use the summarizing and references to prior learning to ensure students are connecting the learning well, and didn’t miss anything essential.

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