Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education

Section 1

Section 2
Background and Rationale for Assessment

Section 3
Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Section 4
Assessment Tools and Data

Section 5
Course Assessment
What do you assess?
Assessing Curriculum
Course SLO Matrix
Assessing Pedagogy
Assessing Prior Knowledge
Assessing Metacognition
Assessing Outcomes
Curriculum Review
Sample Course Assessment Reports

Section 6
Program Assessment


Section 7
Closing the Loop

Section 8
Implementing Assessment Training on Campus


Section 9
References & Resources



Using Materials from this Website

Course Assessment - Assessing Student Metacognition

"Self-assessment is a method that allows -indeed forces-students to take stock of and analyze their own learning. As such, it can be not only an evaluative tool but an educational process in its own right." Wright 1999

Recent learning research has re-emphasized the significance of students taking responsibility for their own learning because self-monitored learning prompts and improves student metacognition. Zull (2003) advocated that studentsí knowledge about their own learning was the most significant force in improving learning. Assessment tools that provide an opportunity for students to contextualize learning, and link new material to background knowledge and experiences, enhances deep learning (NRC 2000, 2001a, & 2001b). Effective assessment strategies should examine a wide variety of learning styles and include student self-assessment of their own metacognition (Lowe, 1994; Zull 2003). 

The National Resource Council describes metacognition as one of the top three strategies that produce useable in-depth learning. The NRC emphasizes the importance of incorporating self-learning skills into the curriculum in order to actively target student metacognition and profoundly influence learning outcomes (2000). In summary, metacognitive activities embedded in courses leads to:


improved learning


increased ability to transfer knowledge to real life situations, and


self-dependence necessary for establishing habits essential to lifelong learning.

CATs can be used to stimulate students to think about their own learning and thinking processes. CATs related to metacognitive assessment include study-time logs to self-assess engagement and effort, diagnostic learning logs to analyze preparation, and exam post-mortems to assess and plan for specific exam learning strategies. In addition to using CATs to enhance student metacognition, many faculty advocated the use of student learning style analyses to alert students to their own natural preferences.

Begin by Diagnosing Learning Styles

Learning style analysis has been historically used for basic skills or college readiness programs, but new research on learning indicates that is useful for all students. Several institutions provide access to online learning styles analysis (North Carolina State, Georgia Southern University, University of Tennessee, Penn State University, University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Davis).

Learning style tests differ in their classification methods but most suggest study strategies based upon the diagnosis, saving the student time and energy. The two self-assessment websites below quickly determine student learning preferences and suggest strategies in less than 15 minutes.

VARK (Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, Kinesthetic) by Fleming & Bonwell, 1998

Learning Style Analysis by Soloman and Felder, 1999

One approach is to require students to do the VARK analysis as homework and turn in a specific study strategy based upon the syllabus and course outcomes as homework after the first class meeting. The following class meeting students can be temporarily grouped around the classroom based upon learning styles. Grouping by learning styles, allows them to develop study teams by selecting participants with a variety of learning strengths besides their own.

Inevitably there are very few students that learn best through auditory styles, the teaching modality they have been most exposed to in college.  Examining learning styles helps students to become aware of, and broaden, their ability to learn from various teaching styles (Felder, 1993). *The large number of kinesthetic learners always reminds me of the importance of hands-on activities, even though they take more of my time and effort.

Understanding learning styles is an important faculty consideration when choosing assessment methodologies. Anderson (2000) advocated that, particularly in open admission environments common in community colleges, there is an increased need to adapt assessment methods to a variety of learning styles.

Proceed to Assessing Learning Outcomes

Resources and Links

Deep Learning

Assessment That Promotes Learning. Lowe, 1994

The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. Zull, 2003 (The publisher has asked that I include a special discount code HE04 for multiple copy purchases of any books on their site.)




Janet Fulks
Assessing Student Learning in Community Colleges (2004), Bakersfield College