How do we promote academic standards?

We promote academic standards in two main ways:

  • Through dialogue, including communication of standards through effective assessment briefs and grading criteria (see How to assess)
  • Through application of standards to student work, including model answers and the inclusion of self- and peer-assessment activities (see Types of assessment and How to assess)

Are we assessing every learning outcome?

Yes, this is the basis of the University’s Modular Framework, that is informed by the QAA. See Bloxham and Boyd 2007 (pp. 28-29) for a discussion of this assessment approach.

Using constructive alignment can help you to ensure that your assessment tasks address the learning outlined in the outcomes, and ensure that all outcomes are covered in your chosen assessment plan.

It is important to remember that not every outcome needs to be assessed in every activity.

How can assessment influence students’ progression?

Transforming assessment and feedback: Enhancing integration and empowerment in the first year captures many principles and practical examples of how to design assessment and provide feedback in a way that supports student programme from Year 1 to Year 2.

More information, related to this topic, can be found in the Feedback section of the Assessment and Feedback Portal.

How do we assess in different learning contexts?

Seamless Learning is the term used to refer to learning that happens across multiple contexts. See Wong and Looi (2011) for a critical literature review.

Indeed, as our learning, working and social lives become more integrated as part of our individual learning landscape, pedagogies and tools for teaching need to become more effective at supporting students in seamless learning. Sharples et al. (2013) discussed Seamless Learning in the Open University’s Innovating Pedagogy publication (p. 17).

Please refer to sections on Assessing for Employability and Assessment for Changemaker for more guidance on designing assessment for workplace understanding and social innovation.

Are we over-assessing?

Price et al. (2011) suggested that the term ‘over-assessment’ is meaningless. The following is an excerpt from their publication:

“It is often claimed that there is a problem with ‘over-assessment’ in the system. Solving over-assessment is portrayed as the key to resolving many, if not most, of the ills surrounding assessment. For many, the distinction between summative and formative assessment is clear: summative assessment generates marks and regulates whether students can pass through a specific boundary when moving towards accreditation. Formative assessment, on the other hand, gives students information about how their learning is progressing. In this kind of binary view of assessment, over-assessment results from tipping the balance too far towards summative assessment. As with all issues raised thus far, achieving a balance between summative and formative assessment requires complex, contextual thinking. There are several conflicting issues and there is no straightforward way of reconciling them.” (pp. 485-486)

Over-assessment can take many forms. When reviewing your assessment strategy, look out for the following common pitfalls:

  • Miscommunication about the role of assessment. Overemphasis on assessment as summative (assessment of learning), rather than as part of the learning process (assessment for learning), may lead to a perception of ‘over-assessment’ from both students and staff.
  • Multiple assessment of learning outcomes. Sometimes it is pedagogically appropriate to allow a student more than one opportunity to demonstrate successful achievement of a particular outcome, for example where you require them to demonstrate knowledge or skill in a range of different contexts. It is important though to distinguish these cases from the temptation to include every outcome in every assessment task so the student can have another attempt at the same thing – this is what formative assessment is for.
  • Hidden assessments. While it is pedagogically sound to design tasks that support incremental development and production over time, this should be distinguished from tasks that include many disparate parts under a single heading. Multi-part assessments should be clearly described and explained to the students (check the assessment and feedback policy for more guidance on this).
  • Volume of assessment. Assessment should form roughly one quarter of the learning hours for each module (20 credits = 200 hours = 50 hours of assessment). Think carefully about the hours of effort your chosen tasks will require, particularly for non-experts, and try to track whether this is realistic in terms of the time students spend on it. A well-designed assessment will encourage time on task (learning of the required knowledge and skills described in the outcomes) without overwhelming the student in terms of workload.
  • Timing of assessments. Where all the modules in a taught year are delivered ‘long and thin’ over 24 weeks, this can result in over-assessment through the addition of extra assessment tasks to ‘keep the momentum going’. There can also be a perception of over-assessment where a number of modules have substantial assessment tasks set at the same time, or where there isn’t sufficient time between assessment points to allow the students to benefit from feedback. Compare your deadlines to others on the programme to get a better sense of the balance of work required.

How can we share good assessment practice?

Sharing good assessment practice is vital to enhancing our ability to support student learning. Here are some ideas for sharing good assessment practice:

  1. Join an Assessment Working Group within your Faculty (or talk to your Faculty Learning and Teaching Coordinator about setting one up)
  2. Use a section of your regular Subject or Programme Team Meeting to share assessment practice
  3. Participate in the C@N-DO Assessment and Feedback Workshop
  4. Follow the LearnTech blog for new assessment ideas
  5. Blog or Tweet ideas to your followers
  6. Attend regional and national academic development events to hear what is happening in the sector
  7. Stay abreast of assessment practices via the Higher Education Academy website

How do we design assessment that is fair?

“In designing, operating and evaluating assessment processes, higher education providers take into account the entitlements of their students who reflect the diversity of protected characteristics and prior educational experience” (QAA 2013b, p. 5, see also Indicator 10, p. 19)

For mitigating circumstances see our University policy.

How do we engage students in assessment design?

Feedback from students is vital in designing meaningful and impactful assessment of and for learning. Feedback from students can be collected in a variety of ways and provide formative input into one’s teaching practice. Students can be used as ‘reality checkers’ for new, innovative assessment design, to ensure that it will be well-received, accessible and useful (among other factors).

Please see the Role of the Student section of the Assessment and Feedback Portal for further ideas for engaging students in Assessment Design.

What are the implications for assessment design and workload?

This question is also addressed in the When to Assess section of the Assessment and Feedback Portal.

Suggestions for reducing the workload of feedback from the HEA Feedback Toolkit include managing expectations, ring-fencing time, self-and peer-evaluation, group feedback, rubrics and technology.

See also Bloxham and Boyd’s (2007 pp. 173-174) book: Bloxham, S. and Boyd, P. (2007) Developing Effective Assessment in Higher Education: a practical guide. Maidenhead: Open University Press

What does internationalisation mean for assessment?

As the University embraces principles of openness and global reach, we are left with a question of how this affects assessment design and practice. Here are a few resources that might help us continue this discussion.

See Chapter B6 of the QAA’s Quality Code (Indicator 12, p. 19) on assessment in other languages.

The Higher Education Academy’s website outlines its Internationalisation Framework and offers several useful resources for teaching international students.

The Higher Education Academy’s website offers guidance for Internationalising the Curriculum.

Bloxham and Boyd’s (2007, pp. 152-154) book offers some insights: Bloxham, S. and Boyd, P. (2007) Developing Effective Assessment in Higher Education: a practical guide. Maidenhead: Open University Press

What does the move to our Waterside Campus mean for assessment?

The higher education landscape is constantly changing. From now until 2018, we look forward to a move to our new Waterside Campus. This move brings significant opportunities to explore new approaches to learning and teaching, as well as our tried and tested techniques. Some of our work in this area is currently happening, as part of our normal quality enhancement and quality assurance cycle.

Some initiatives include:

  • Exploring flexible learning through dedicated support from Learning Designers
  • A review of Programme Design Criteria for 21st Century Learning is a University-wide consultation exercise happening this year
  • The University Modular Framework is undergoing as rolling review, with a focus on assessment planned for 2016-2017
  • Capacities for Team-Based Learning are being developed through centralised activities sponsored by ILT and LearnTech
  • Policies and Regulations are being updated to support flexible approaches to learning, teaching and student support