Document Type




Publication Date

Spring 3-15-2019


This project involves a different way of running courses and assessments, in line with a very formative philosophy on learning. Being a whole system, it involves several components working together. Topics are designed as a sequence of small natural ‘learning units’, each with specific learning objectives. The aim is for all students to eventually attain high-level ‘mastery’ of all topic objectives, given the opportunity. Structured ‘learning tasks’ occur during learning, and ‘mastery assessments’ after topic completion. Both are formative rather than summative, in that students have an opportunity to learn from feedback and try again for mastery (assessment for learning). The main idea is to maximize learning rather than rank students by point score. Both learning and mastery tasks earn credits for their attainment. These accumulate in ongoing fashion toward a student’s final course grade. Both individual and whole-class feedback may be given, and the latter can also be the basis of guided self-assessment. The nature and quality of tasks and assessments is obviously crucial in such a system, since they form an integral part of teaching, learning and course materials. This system contrasts with the more conventional system of lectures, homework, and periodic summative exams with point scores.

The system is being piloted in two science courses, one on Waves, the other on Climate. Though the philosophy is clear, the devil is in the details! The system is coherent but different, so students may need time to adapt their perspective and learning behaviors. Outcomes so far are encouraging – even students who might normally be marginal seem capable of attaining mastery on most topics.


Dr. David Schuster, from the Physics Department and Mallinson Institute for Science Education, shared this poster at the 2019 WMU Assessment in Action Conference on March 15. He was a recipient of one of the 2018-2019 WMU Assessment Fellows Grants to conduct research on assessment of student learning outcomes.