Assessment in Higher Education



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Assessment in Higher Education

  • Linda Carey Centre for Educational Development
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • “Assessment is at the heart of student experience”
  • Brown and Knight (1994)
  • “If you want to change student learning then change the method of assessment”
      • Brown, Bull & Pendlebury (1997)

Aligning the learning outcomes and the assessment (Biggs, 2002)

  • Defining the intended learning outcomes
  • Choosing teaching/learning activities likely to lead to attaining the learning outcomes
  • Assessing students’ learning outcomes to see how well they match what was intended
  • Arriving at a final grade
  • Students learn what they think they’ll be assessed on, not what’s in the curriculum.
  • The trick is, then, to make sure the assessment tasks mirror what you intended them to learn”
  • Biggs, 2002, page 6

Modes of assessment

  • Summative
  • Formative
  • Diagnostic
  • How is assessment carried out?
  • Tutor assessment
  • Peer or self assessment
  • On-line assessment (usually MCQs)

Summative assessment (educational)

Summative assessment (employment)

Formative assessment

  • To provide feedback to students to improve their learning
  • To provide a profile of what a student has learnt
  • To help students to develop their skills of self assessment
  • To motivate students - possibly through goal setting

Diagnostic assessment

Range of assessment methods

  • Unseen, closed book exam: essay answers, short question answers, combination
  • Open book exam
  • Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) exam
  • Course work: essay, report, project
  • Learning Journal
  • Portfolio
  • Presentation and/or poster
  • Peer or self assessment
  • Task 1: Discuss in groups
  • What assessment methods do you use?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of these methods?

Some common problems with assessment (partially based on material presented by William Thompson at Queen’s University, Belfast 2010 )

  • The assessment tasks do not match the stated learning outcomes
  • The marking criteria do not match the tasks or outcomes
  • The criteria are not known to students
  • Students do not understand the criteria
  • Overuse of one mode of assessment such as written examinations, essays, MCQs
  • Assessment overload for students and staff
  • Insufficient time for students to do the assignments
  • Too many assignments with the same deadline
  • Insufficient time for staff to mark the assignments or examinations
  • Absence of well defined criteria so consistency is difficult to achieve
  • Unduly specific criteria which create a straitjacket for students and make marking burdensome for lecturers
  • Inadequate or superficial feedback provided to students
  • Wide variations in marking between modules and assessors and within assessors (self-consistency)
  • Variations in assessment demands of different modules
  • Lack of programmatic assessment

Designing effective assessment

  • What are the outcomes to be assessed?
  • What are the capabilities/skills (implicit or explicit) in the outcomes?
  • Is the method of assessment chosen consonant with the outcomes and skills?
  • Is the method relatively efficient in terms of student time and staff time?
  • What alternative types of assessment are there? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
  • Does the specific assessment task match the outcomes and skills?
  • Are the marking schemes or criteria appropriate?

Effective feedback (Sadler, 1989)

  • To benefit from feedback students should
  • Know the goal or standard being aimed for
  • Compare their performance with the goal or standard
  • Take action to close the gap
    • Make sense of the feedback
    • Know what actions to take

Good Practice in Giving Feedback

  • Does the feedback relate to the assessment criteria?
  • Is it linked directly to the student’s work?
  • Is the feedback timely?
  • Is it understandable to the learner?
    • Language clear and jargon-free
  • How much feedback do you provide?
    • Sufficient but not overwhelming

Good Practice in Giving Feedback

  • Does it include positive as well as negative comments?
  • Does it clearly prioritise areas for improvement?
  • Does it focus on action points: what does the student needs to do to improve next time?

Task 2: Aligning assessment with learning outcomes

  • Complete the assessment grid for a module you teach:
  • What are the learning outcomes?
  • How will you assess each learning outcome?
  • What are the weightings for each assessment task?


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