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Researching Assessment Practices (RAP)

Assessment Design Resources

A holistic approach to assessment design is needed in order to address central issues such as:

  1. the relevance of assessment;
  2. volume of assessment;
  3. inclusive nature of assessment; and
  4. collaborative design of assessment to ensure shared understandings, sustainability, and manageability.

A fundamental question is how can technology support the operationalisation of EAT and the development of each of the 12 sub-dimensions?

A programme level assessment approach is useful to fully consider the learning journey of the student and to critically review what we need to assess and how. In implementing innovative assessment design we need to consider the evidence-base for using specific approaches especially if we are expecting colleagues and students to ‘buy in’ to an approach; what is the evidence base to support such change? A critical pedagogies approach is essential in ensuring inclusive practices through exploring who may be advantaged and disadvantaged by changes to assessment and feedback. A key question is how does curriculum design support the development of self-efficacious self-regulatory learners?

‘Bang for buck’ is important for pedagogical and viability reasons. It is useful to consider what changes in assessment practice make the biggest difference in relation to the impact on student learning outcomes in the immediate and longer terms, and the level of investment required to effect such changes.

It is possible to develop positive assessment habits by looking for small improvements in each of the 12 sub-dimensions of EAT building on Brailsford’s notion of marginal gains used so effectively by the UK Cycling team – Team GB in the 2012 Olympics.  Put simply by Brailsford it is about the:“aggregation of marginal gains…The one percent margin for improvement in everything that you do.” The argument is that the sum of small incremental improvements can lead to significant improvements when they are all added together. In Evans' et al. (2015) it was also noted that some relatively small changes in assessment practice had the potential for significant changes to both students’ perceptions of the learning environment and to learning outcomes. 

AD1 - Ensure robust and transparent processes and procedures; QA literacy

To innovate with confidence we need a good understanding of quality assurance, hence the emphasis in the framework on developing lecturer QA literacy. QA literacy gives us the freedom to implement new approaches to assessment in an informed and responsible way and to cut through prevailing misconceptions and hurdles regarding what we can and cannot do. Within modules and programmes an understanding of QA literacy is not the preserve of one person; it is the responsibility of the whole team in developing collaborative assessment designs.

AD 2 - Promote meaningful and focused assessment

We need to … bridge the classroom with life outside of it. The connection between integrative thinking, or experiential learning, and the social network, or participatory culture, is no longer peripheral to our enterprise but is the nexus that should guide and reshape our curricula in the current disruptive moment in higher education learning. (Das, 2012, p. 32)

The importance of engaging students in ‘real assessment’ working on real problems that are relevant to their future careers and in real contexts is important (Bedard et al., 2012; Crowl et al., 2013; Erekson, 2011; Patterson et al., 2011). Paraphrasing Friedlander et al. (2011, pp. 416-417) in their discussion of medical students priorities, it is important for us to carefully consider the rationale underpinning what we asking students to do, and its relevance to their current and future needs:

[students] are relational agents, with tremendous demands on their time and attention, and must make choices about where to focus their energies and attention most efficiently…at both conscious and unconscious levels, their brains are engaging in a continuous process of triaging for the allocation of finite neural resources.

Manageability of assessment for lecturers and students is also a key concern and one that can be addressed through a programme level approach to the review and rationalisation of learning outcomes and patterns of assessment to ensure the assessment design works as a coherent whole and that colleagues understand where their modules fit within the programme. Bass (2012) highlights the importance of team-based design of learning environments to ensure shared understandings, collaboration, and integration of ideas across modules.


AD 3 - Ensure access and equal opportunities

A key aim of assessment design is to ensure that no learner is disadvantaged by the nature and pattern of assessment. A totally unlimited choice available to students within assessment design may penalise those whose self-regulatory abilities are not as well developed. EAT emphasizes the importance of negotiated and managed choice with students working with lecturers to agree options.

The concept of universal design is applicable to the design of assessment and feedback in promoting adaptive assessment designs that enable access for all learners rather than focusing on adapted designs to suit the needs of specific groups (Evans et al., 2015; Waring & Evans, 2015).

Ensuring early and full provision of resources is one way to promote access to learning. Supporting students to develop strong resource networks (e.g. appropriate sources of information; relevant research/discipline groups; peer groups etc.) are additional ways to address the impoverished networks that some students have which limit their access to learning.

AD 4 - Ensure ongoing evaluation to support the development of sustainable assessment and feedback practice

Feedback needs to be organic to feed in to enhancements in learning and teaching. Students and lecturers need to work in partnership to inform teaching on an iterative basis. Feedback mechanisms need to be an integral part of curriculum design. Feedback should be part of the ongoing dialogue within taught sessions on what can and cannot be changed to enhance practice and why. It is about clear communication about why learning and teaching is designed and delivered in a particular way; this is definitely not about solely complying with student requests; it is about justifying the underpinning rationale for why the teaching design is as it is, and what is reasonable and not reasonable to change and why. Feedback should not be overcomplicated; a ‘what was good’ and ‘what could be improved’ serves an important purpose in gaining immediate feedback. Students need guidance regarding ‘feedback capture’. More detailed feedback questionnaires also need to be aligned to what the assessment feedback priorities are in order to catch relevant and focused information where necessary. A key issue is how feedback is shared among lecturers to promote the exchange of good practice for the benefit of the whole programme during the teaching cycle as well as after it as part of annual programme review. 

In summary, EAT is an example of an integrative assessment framework that can support small-scale and large-scale assessment and feedback change. Key emphases include self-regulatory development; student and lecturer ownership and co-ownership of programmes; collaborative endeavour; all underpinned by an inclusive pedagogical approach (PLSP) with a critical pedagogic stance.

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