Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Good assessment - the right of all our students

On my travels I have come across Kate Wicklow (Feedback Officer) of the NUS. I'm always been impressed at Kate's energy and enthusiasm for the work she does. I can see the passion for the work she does. anyway, Kate, via Sarah Knight, invited me to write a piece for the NUS journal HE Focus. Naturally I responded positively.

The 'draft' piece follows. Lets see what happens and see if it get included

Good assessment - the right of all students!

The ESCAPE project
Good assessment is the right of all our students - fact! Good assessment should not be the experience of a lucky few taught by academics that understand the significant influence of assessment. An influence that, inter alia, shapes students’ study behaviours, stimulates an appropriate ‘approach’ to learning, and arouses the students’ inquisitiveness in learning and their subject discipline. Such aspirations, although not impossible, are becoming every more difficult given the increase in student numbers and associated reduction in resource.
Our JISC funded project, Effecting Sustainable Change in Assessment Practice and Experience (ESCAPE) seeks to bring about enhancements to assessment in a resource efficient way. Working with two Academic Schools at the University of Hertfordshire, (The Business School and The School of Life Sciences), we set out to explore current assessment practice, surface conceptions of good assessment and subsequently support our partners as they review and develop their assessment practice.

What is good?
Review the assessment literature and you will unearth numerous sets of principles of good assessment and feedback practice. See for instance (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004; McDowell et al., 2006; Nicol, 2007; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Weston-Manor-Group, 2007), and of course the principles espoused by the National Union of Students (separately on assessment and feedback). To help us engage with busy academics, and being mindful of the so-called magic number seven, we have drawn together the existing principles and produced a set of six overarching ESCAPE themes. These are:
Good assessment for learning…
• Engages students with the assessment criteria
• Supports personalised learning
• Ensures feedback leads to improvement
• Focuses on student development
• Stimulates dialogue
• Considers student and staff effort

Although we recognise the importance of assessment as an instrument to measure learning our primary interest is using assessment to encourage and stimulate, and not measure, learning.

Working with our ESCAPE partner schools we are using the themes to establish a better assessment and hence educational experience for their students. Using the themes along with a purposely positive exploration of current practice we are working with staff to develop assessment that is both educative and resource efficient. By working at the conceptual level of good assessment, rather than offering quick fixes, we are providing a framework for our partners to take their developing assessment expertise to other modules. Indeed we are already seeing assessment developments being translated on other non-ESCAPE modules.

An example in practice

One of our ESCAPE modules previously required students to provide an individual laboratory report. The laboratory is traditionally a formal document describing the aims of the study, apparatus, method, results and discussion. The nature of the setting however, around 90 students and an individual report, meant that students were not provided with feedback immediately after their submission and the students’ thinking and developing conceptions could not readily be seen by their lecturer. The lecturer could only see the students’ conceptions when the final submission was made.

Following the module teams engagement with the ESCAPE project, the students now work in groups and co-construct their laboratory report on a wiki. Importantly, the wiki ensures that individual contributions are seen and the evolving laboratory report is visible to the lecturer. As such the lecturer now engages with the students’ work at regular intervals and provides on-going feedback on the students work, thinking and analysis. As such this feedback can now be used by the students to shape their thinking and their work.

At the end of the group process, and to alleviate concerns over working in a group that has different levels of student contributions, the students also provide a mark along with an justification statement (for the mark) for each of their group members. These student marks help individualise the mark provided by the lecturer.
The lecturer, new to wiki’s at the start of the process, believes his students now have a better educational experience and he has saved time; win-win at its best.

Numerous examples of effective and resources efficient practice are available and naturally we want to spread our ways of working more widely across the University. Good assessment is, after all, the right of all our students!

For more information about the ESCAPE project take a look at http://escape-uh-jisc.blogspot.com/

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students' learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education,, 1, 8.
McDowell, L., Sambell, K., Bazin, V., Penlington, R. W., D, Wickes, H., & Smailes, J. (2006). Assessment for learning: Current practice exemplars from the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Assessment for Learning o. Document Number)
Nicol, D. (2007). Principles of good assessment and feedback: Theory and practice. Paper presented at the Assessment design for learner responsibility, Reap On-Line.
Nicol, D., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.
Weston-Manor-Group. (2007). Assessment Standards : A manifesto for change. Retrieved 20 October 2008, from http://www.business.brookes.ac.uk/learningandteaching/aske/Manifesto%20final.pdf

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