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M. Etkind1, U. Shafrir2

1Ryerson University (CANADA)
2University of Toronto (CANADA)
Traditional learning assessments often include structured items such as true/false and multiple-choice questions that focus on information and on application of procedures. Results of such assessments demonstrate learners’ memory of facts and correct execution of multi-step problem-solving procedures. In contrast, assessment of conceptual thinking includes unstructured items, namely, inductive questions that require higher-order thinking skills and focus on the meaning of conceptual situations. The importance of conceptual thinking is now recognized as a cornerstone of learning for deep comprehension - ways of thinking that explore patterns of equivalence-of-meaning among ideas, relations, and underlying issues.

Pedagogy for Conceptual Thinking, developed and tested since 2000 in various knowledge domains (mathematics; physics; biology; psychology; architecture; project management; and education), enhance learning outcomes; identify ‘soft conceptual spots’ and provide specific hints for remediation; identify good vs. poor conceptual thinkers; encourage and enhance development of good conceptual thinking. Inclusion of conceptual thinking assessment outcomes in a learner’s e-Portfolio provides an authentic evidence of mastery of knowledge.

Certificate in Pedagogy of Conceptual Thinking for Instructors, offered by iSchool Institute, Faculty of Information at University of Toronto, was designed for instructors in secondary and post-secondary institutions, as well as in public and private organizations with professional learning programs. Pedagogy of Conceptual Thinking provides learners with frequent opportunities, during interactive/formative quizzes, for small-group discussions and comparisons of multiple representations of conceptual situations in multiple sign systems that share equivalence-of-meaning; as well as to formulate written descriptions of these conceptual situations. In subsequent summative assessments (e.g., mid-term, final exam), learners demonstrate higher-order thinking skills and enhanced conceptual thinking. The certificate program covers a total of 72 instruction hours, and includes the following topics.

Meaning Equivalence Reusable Learning Objects (MERLO): Structured vs. unstructured problems as tools for teaching and learning; multiple representations that share equivalence-of-meaning; template for MERLO item construction: Target Statement (TS), plus (2X2) matrix of Surface Similarity (SS) by Meaning Equivalence (ME); MERLO item types; overview of existing MERLO databases in different knowledge domains, including: physics; mathematics; biology; architecture; psychology; project management; business; construction of MERLO databases by instructors in different knowledge domains.

MERLO interactive/formative classroom quizzes: Interactive/formative MERLO assessment in the classroom; exploring Boundary of Meaning (BoM) in class discussions; construction and administration of in-class interactive/formative MERLO assessment by instructors in different knowledge domains.

MERLO in summative assessments: Informational/procedural vs. conceptual comprehension of course content; different formats of ‘informational/procedural items’ in summative assessment; different formats of ‘conceptual items’ in summative assessment; scoring of summative assessment by instructors in different knowledge domains, including comparative analysis of informational/procedural vs. conceptual knowledge of course content.