Science process/inquiry skills are notoriously difficult to assess in isolation. As a result, we often see assessments that “test” process skills through multiple choice questions: “choose the best hypothesis based on the sample experiment shown above.” Despite the ubiquity of multiple choice, we know that these types of questions are a two-dimensional means of assessing most knowledge, particularly process skills. Even if a student selects the correct answer, he or she may still have difficulty creating his or her own hypothesis if the answer choices were removed. Multiple choice assessments create good test takers but not good real-world problem solvers. Worchester Polytechnic Institute’s Janice D. Gobert, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and learning sciences, might have the answer to this dilemma.
Dr. Gobert and her team developed a method to assess middle school students’ process skills using “microworlds,” a virtual lab simulation that uses open-ended response to capture student understanding in a way that multiple choice cannot. Thus far, the team’s results have been promising – initial findings show that students could still demonstrate the skills they acquired six months prior.