Assessment for learning: a shared responsibility

In 2016, Professor Christine Jarvis, the Pro Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning made funds available for teaching and learning development projects that could make an impact on teaching, learning and assessment. As a result, the seven schools at the University of Huddersfield are running a number of projects and we are sharing some of the project progress and outcomes here on the Teaching and Learning Institute blog.

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The School of Education and Professional Development has a project which focuses on Assessment for Learning and aims to improve assessment practices across the undergraduate courses and the wider school. In this post, Dr Liz Bennett and Dr Kate Lavender talk about developing their understanding of what students’ views of assessment, how to better support student assessment literacy and the creation of some Principles of Assessment for Learning that position assessment practices as a shared responsibility.

Student satisfaction with assessment

Assessment is the area that scores least well in the National Student Survey (NSS). This is true nationally but is also true for the University of Huddersfield (although we are doing significantly better than rest of the sector however clearly we must not be complacent). In addition, we know that students’ attainment has a significant impact on their self-esteem which in turn impacts on retention (Bluicet al., 2011). Finding ways to develop students’ satisfaction with assessment was one of the drivers for a school based project focusing on Assessment for Learning. We analysed data was from the 2016 NSS qualitative comments and identified issues relating to:

  • Fairness
  • Assessment literacy
  • Feedback

Typical comments were:

Fairness

“tutors expect different things”

“As a student with responsibilities out of university I personally have not asked for 1 extension when struggling with meeting deadlines as I view this as a last resort. However certain individuals are being granted extensions for deadlines for petty reasons.”

Assessment Literacy

“it’s hard to reach the top, not a lot of support.”

“I haven’t given clear, detailed instructions about how to carry out an assignment”

“They could have explained the grading criteria in more detail, which would have helped students to pick up marks on the assignments.”

Feedback

“Given very limited feedback on the formative which leaves students feeling disappointed with the summative results due to this.”

“feedback that I got for formative was really poor with just words and I don’t know how I am supposed to improve my work.”

“Feedback on some modules did not match the grade. Example: on the assignment was written good points such as excellent work, good work but grade did not match”

“The feedback received isn’t detail enough for my liking.”

Assessment literacy

Qualitative data was also collected for the project in the form of focus groups with students in the school which has helped to contextualize the NSS data to inform our understanding of students’ comments as, in part, a failure in relation to students’ understanding of assessment literacy. Assessment literacy is defined as students’ understanding of the purpose and process of assessment (why they are being assessed, what they need to do in order to succeed, and how the assessment contributes to their overall understanding of the subject (after Price et al 2012; Forsyth et al 2015; Evans 2016). SEPD lecturers already use many of the tools for developing students’ assessment literacy including:

  • engaging students with assessment criteria by involving them in:
    • assessing each other’s work,
    • refining criteria to align with requirements of a specific assessment task;
    • using rubrics with clearly defined marking criteria to explain the grade given;
  • supporting students to understand the assessment task through clear explanations and support provided in range of forms (detailed assignment briefs, tutorials).

The project is focusing on ways that we can develop students’ understanding of assessment and feedback including their ability to act on feedback. We have been informed by Evans (2013) work on students’ self-regulation and Bartimote-Aufflick et al.’s (2015) work on self-efficacy in assessment practices (also Cowan 2015, Forsyth 2015).

We see this move to focus on developing students’ self-regulatory behaviours as a significant shift in the way that we improve our assessment practices; moving the responsibility from lecturers/the school towards a shared responsibility.

Principles of Assessment for Learning

We have developed some SEPD Principles of Assessment for Learning drawing on Evans (2016) work. We have also identified some resources for developing students’ ability to understand, interpret and act on feedback produced by the Higher Education Academy (Winstone & Nash 2016) which have started to discuss with Course Leaders.

We argue that by improving students’ understanding of assessment literacy and their self-regulatory behaviours should help to manage their expectations. We also argue that students need this high degree of assessment literacy to understand their role in assessment and how assessment operates. This will, we believe, deepen students’ understanding and enable them to engage more meaningfully with the NSS questions and thus help to develop the validity of the NSS survey results from our students. We also believe that it will help us to work with our students as partners in the learning process and this in turn will support students’ self-esteem and thus aid retention.

References

Bartimote-Aufflick, K., Bridgeman, A., Walker, R., Sharma, M., & Smith, L. (2015). The study, evaluation, and improvement of university student self-efficacy. Studies in Higher Education, 41(11), 1918-1942. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2014.999319

Bliuc, A-M., Ellis, R.A., Goodyear, P., & Hendres, D. M. (2011). Understanding student learning in context: Relationships between university students’ social identity, approaches to learning, and academic performance. European Journal of Psychology Education, 26, 417-433. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10212-011-0065-6

Cowan, J. (2015). Promoting self-efficacy through affective feedback and feedforward. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 9. http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/ojs/index.php?journal=jldhe&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=313

Evans, C. (2013). Making Sense of Assessment Feedback in Higher Education. Review of Educational Research, 83(1), 70-120. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/0034654312474350

Forsyth, R., Cullen, R., Ringan, N., & Stubbs, M. (2015). Supporting the development of assessment literacy of staff through institutional process change. London Review of Education, 13(2), 34-42.  http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ioep/clre/2015/00000013/00000003/art00005

Price, M., Rust, C., O’Donovan, B., Handley, K., and Bryant, R. (2012) Assessment Literacy: The foundation for improving student learning. Oxford: ASKe, Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.

Winstone, N. E., & Nash, R. A. (2016). The Developing Engagement with Feedback Toolkit (DEFT) Retrieved from HEA: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resource/developing-engagement-feedback-toolkit-deft

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute (TALI). The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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