At the University of West London, you are encouraged to make use of a wide range of assessments. It is also important that you give formative feedback (feedback that students can use to improve their work). Assessments should always be aligned to clear learning outcomes and learning tasks/activities.
Feedback is one of the most important aspects in the learning. It is also one of the most difficult tasks for a lecturer. Key principles for giving feedback are:
- It should be clear and constructive
- It should be encouraging
- It should be directive – include three actions students can focus on in order to improve their work.
Assessment is everywhere
Assessment is everywhere. From written essays to group projects. From multiple choice questions to reflective accounts. There is ‘assessment of learning’; ‘assessment for learning’; ‘assessment in learning’, and ‘assessment as learning’. Once you become aware of assessment you start seeing it everywhere, all the time, non-stop, 24/7.
Knowing and using knowledge
There are only really two questions in education – ‘What?’ and ‘So what?’ The former tests for knowledge the latter tests for understanding. In focussing on some forms of assessment the system has privileged knowledge retrieval over the application of knowledge. Using a variety of assessment methods should help test for both.
Successful assessment is a structured process organised around what we expect students to learn. We might think of these expectations as ‘learning outcomes’ or ‘learning intentions’ where the role of assessment is to measure how well students have done in relation to these learning outcomes.
Assessment doesn't just 'check'
The everyday assumption is that assessment ‘checks’ learning – but this is only really true in a very narrow way. Some assessments (such as multiple choice tests) are best at testing current levels of knowledge but other assessment methods (such as case studies) are able to show application and synthesis of knowledge.
A robust approach to assessment involves properly structured formative and summative assessment where we use formative assessment to gauge student progression and to provide them with feedforward and summative assessment to offer a final mark or grade that shows how they have done in relation to set marking criteria.
Formative and summative assessment
Formative assessment ‘informs’ future learning.
Summative assessment summarises learning.
At the University of West London, students are entitled to receive feedback on their work within 15 working days. If an assessment is summary, 20% of the submissions should be second marked (in the case of master’s dissertations ALL dissertations must be double marked). In addition to second marking, work must also be moderated. A moderation report should be submitted to the external examiner, clearly showing the process for second marking and moderation and how agreement on outcome has been achieved.
The seven principles of good feedback:
- Facilitates the development of self-assessment and reflection in learning
- Encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning
- Helps clarify what good performance is
- Provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance
- Delivers high-quality information to students about their learning
- Encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem
- Provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape the teaching
(Nicol and McFarlane-Dick 2004; 2006)
- What if… Instead of asking students to study a course then sit some kind of assessment, the assessment is for them to design a course. Then there would be no need for didactic teaching and no need for ‘bolt on’ assessment.
It's good to have a range...
- It’s good to have a range of assessment but don’t try to do everything in one single module/unit. Work with colleagues to plan diverse assessments at course/curricular level.
- The best way to test if your assessment tool is authentic is to imagine students undertaking the assessment with full access to books, discussion and the internet.
Products and processes...
- Assessment that focuses on the product (answer) relegates the significance of the process. Help students understand that learning ‘how’ is more important than learning ‘what’
- Let’s try ‘flipped assessment’ where students design assessment tasks and marking guides – based on learning outcomes you share with them.
- Assessment shouldn’t be the end of learning. Try to see assessment as something that is beneficial to students’ future learning.