Examining technology enhanced assessment in HE by @gmcgregorpcet

My research has led me to the core principles of assessment in general and, while I am focussing on formative assessment, it must be noted that summative assessment is equally important and valid. Assessment of learning, which draws from a behaviourist and cognitivist view point, is imperative within a higher education setting.

This is a re-blog post by Gemma McGregor and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Due to the fact that academic qualifications carry with them both accountability and certification it is clear that one strategy cannot be substituted for the other and both must work alongside one another to provide a true picture of learning that has taken place.

“Summative assessments are essential in certifying learner’s achievements and establishing what is typical and reasonable.” Oosterhof et al (2008:82)

Although assessment of learning will undoubtedly remain part of the higher education landscape it is often described as a more of a surface approach to learning. Entwistle (2000:3) claims the intention of this kind of assessment is simply to allow a student to cope with the task, an exam for example, and sees a course as “unrelated bits of information”. Formative assessment, however, lends itself far more to a deep approach to learning whereby students “monitor the development of their own understanding.” Entwistle, McCune and Walker (2000:3)

For the purpose of this study, however, assessment for learning is the major area of focus. This approach draws upon the co-constructivist view point outlined by Biggs and Tang (1998) in Tiwari and Tang (no date) who believe that:

“ …true meaning cannot be imposed or transmitted through direct learning alone but is created by the learners through their learning activity. Therefore, if meaning is constructed, learners should be expected to give proof that the desired learning has occurred.” (Biggs and Tang as cited in Karsten, Dunbar-Krige and Muller 2012:28)

This view is also heavily supported by other research by Askew and Lodge (2000), Costa (1991), Watkins et al (1996) and Carnell and Lodge (2002) primarily in that they advocate the approach to evidence based learning which requires a shift from receptive transition models such as assessment of learning and summative assessment to a co-constructivist approach allowing for intrinsic learning and encouraging students to demonstrate their depth of knowledge. This kind of learning aims to create meaning and therefore is not just an assessment of their ability to perform well in examinations.

In order for this depth of learning to take place feedback has to be brought to the forefront of this method of assessment. Since this kind of assessment for learning is ongoing and should be developmental, the giving of timely and constructive feedback should constitute a key element of its successful implementation. Nichol and MacFarlane (2006) advocate a model of effective formative feedback. This model includes seven stages and, as part of my research, I wanted to ascertain whether or not the use of formative assessment tools suitably support this kind of self-regulated, student centred and inclusive learning. The seven stages are as follows:

  1. Helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards)
  2. Facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning
  3. Delivers high quality information to students about their learning
  4. Encourages teacher and peer dialog around learning
  5. Encourages positive motivational beliefs and self esteem
  6. Provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance
  7. Provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching

(Nichol and MacFarlane 2006 : 205)

According to Brown and Knight (1994:1) assessment is at the heart of the student experience. This is evidently reinforced by the national student survey data which confirmed that, between 2009 and 2011, student’s experiences of assessment were the areas that they were most dissatisfied with.

In particular, students commented on the quality of the feedback they were given and at which points throughout their study they received it Price et al (2011:36). Following this data, The Burgess Report (2007) made way for a shift from using solely summative assessment within higher education, claiming that simply ‘signing off’ a person’s education with assignments or module exams does not fit with the ideology of lifelong learning. And if, as Ramsden (1992:187) implies, students feel that the ‘assessment defines the curriculum’ then we should be thinking far more critically with regard to how we monitor achievement. Are our current strategies fit for purpose and do they meet learner needs?

Although the co-constructivist approach is applied within a HE setting, does the format we currently employ really encourage a less passive and more active approach to their learning journey?

Portfolio based assessment in higher education

There is evidence to indicate that, while portfolios have been used within the HE system in the UK, they have mainly been used to demonstrate learner progress for summative purposes Baume & Yorke (2002), Brown (2003) and Nystrand et al (1993) and less often as a developmental, formative working document. However, a report commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills outlines the need to not only apply portfolio systems as a summative assessment tool but that using this to support ongoing assessment allows for

“increasing emphasis on the development of skills such as communication, scholarship and critical analysis.”

(DfES The future of Higher Education 2003 as cited in Klenowski, Askew and Carnell 2007:278)

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