Introduction to some key areas in assessment
In the last 20 years or so educational developers have paid increasing attention to the effectiveness of assessment methods that are utilised in higher education. Various researchers have pointed out the need for more streamlined use of assessment that fits into the cycle of instructional design and is not seen as a bolt-on activity that occurs once the aims and learning outcomes of a course have been decided. Amongst the reasons given for such increased emphasis are:
- Students are motivated by assessment.
- Assessment can be used to improve learning and teaching.
- Assessment should be linked to the aims and objectives of course design.
- Course designers should use a variety of assessment methods.
Students spend the majority of their study time out of class on assessment tasks (this is becoming the case on many courses where emphasis is increasingly placed on student-centred learning).
Gibbs (1999) describes two studies that have shown students' preoccupation with assessment :
'In both... studies the assessment system was found to be the dominant influence on the way students learn, on how much effort they put in and what they allocated this effort to'.
I ended up with 11,000 words to write and I ended up in the space of two months on three different things and I was just totally wiped out at the end of it. I was really, really tired mentally. I never wanted to see another book in my life.
Ruth 1st year, Diploma in Social Work
Effectively designed assessment should focus students' learning activities on an approach that is appropriate for the learning outcomes of the course.
Gibbs (1999) describes case studies that show how changes to the assessment method or the assessment task can lead to improvements in student learning.
1. Education students on a Philosophy course were answering essay questions in examinations with factual details that showed little understanding of the subject area. The course leader switched the focus of the examination by adding a 10-minute video of a classroom situation. Students were then asked in what ways the classroom interactions could be described in philosophical terms. Students' learning activity became more appropriate and exam answers reflected a deeper understanding of philosophical concepts.
2. Engineering students submitted problem sheets to lecturers each week for marking as a precursor to an end of year examination. As student numbers increased the average mark fell to 45%. Peer marking was introduced which lead to an improvement in marks to 75%. Amongst other things this technique...
- increased time on task,
- improved appropriate learning activity,
- allowed for regular feedback that students paid attention to.
Much emphasis has been placed on the development of aims and learning outcomes in educational design in order to ensure transparency and quality of teaching. It is recommended that the assessment methods used on courses match these aims and learning outcomes. Brown (1999) has argued that ensuring assessment methods are fit for purpose is the single most important thing that academics can do that will improve teaching and learning in HE.
'the wholesale reliance upon formal end-of-session examinations as the sole mode of assessing students for the award of their degrees has effectively disappeared' [Glasner (1999)]
Many courses have moved away from only using traditional assessment methods i.e. examinations and essays, and are developing innovative ways of assessing students. Some of the reasons that course designers are having to reconsider assessment methods are:
- increased heterogeneity of students,
- increased numbers of students,
- curriculum changes covering a wider range of skills (e.g. key skills).
A range of assessment methods are required to assess a range of skills across a range of students.