Center for Instructional
Innovation and Assessment


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Innovative Teaching Showcase: 2015 Idea Learning Assessment Resource


Idea 9: Inquiry-based Learning Assessment Tools

“The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning. As such, it must be tied to meaningful, authentic tasks and activities.”2

Learning Intention

Effective assessment both shapes (formatively) and evaluates (summatively) student learning. In inquiry-based learning environments, assessment focuses on both process and product, and “learning is enhanced when instructors offer students multiple ways to demonstrate their learning.”4


Not only do instructors need to assess inquiry-based learners’ content mastery, they may also find it helpful to assess process mastery, the degree to which learning skills and habits of mind are developed in learners.1 Consider a variety of forms of evidence students could offer that would demonstrate their progress toward outcomes.4


  1. Establish Clear Outcomes: Determine what specific content, skills and habits of mind you want students to master.1
  2. Choose Learning Tasks/Products: Decide which forms of evidence students can use to demonstrate mastery of the skills, content and habits of mind you identified.1 Look for meaningful, authentic learning activities or products that involve real-world application or relevant experience. Students might work individually or in groups to build portfolios, submit self-reflections, write reports, do oral or multimedia presentations or performances, engage in debates or interviews, participate in hands-on projects, take quizzes or exams, carry out faculty-observed task performance, or conduct peer-evaluations or observations.4 Inquiry-based instructors might collaborate with students in selecting or developing assessment tools that will most effectively demonstrate their learning.1,2,4
  3. Develop a Rubric: Specifically outline how the learning products will be evaluated. Use the outcomes to develop a clear rubric that describes the criteria for mastery and connects it to the learning activities or assessment tool chosen. See IBL Rubric Development Guide for tips and examples.
  4. Implement Assessment: Integrate the rubric by distributing it as part of the assignment description and/or for students to use in peer- or self-assessment. This way the tools can not only assess learning but also guide it as well.


  • Use these assessments both formatively--to make adjustments to the learning process as it progresses--and summatively to report on students’ accomplishment of objectives.
  • Invite students to participate in some or all of the steps of designing assessment. By helping to identify outcomes, clearly and specifically describe evaluation criteria, and select tools to provide evidence of their learning, students take ownership and become self-directed.


  1. Educational Broadcasting Corporation (2004). How do I assess students’ progress?
    Concept to Classroom Workshop: Inquiry-based Learning. Available online.
  2. Galileo Education Network (2014). Inquiry and Assessment.
  3. Harlen, W. (2013). Assessment & Inquiry-based Science Education: Issues in Policy
    and Practice. Italy: Global Network of Science Academies (IAP) Science Education Programme (SEP). Available online.>
  4. Ophea (No Date). Assessment in Inquiry-based Learning. Ophea Teaching Tools. Available online.