Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A large-scale study of students’ learning in response to different programme assessment patterns

One of the main consequences of the structure of the UK’s modular degree system has been to emphasise summative assessment at the cost of formative assessment designed to shape students’ learning. Semester-long modules with an average of two assessment events are unlikely to provide the learning architecture for cycles of continuous reflection. Taking a programme level approach clarifies the interconnectedness of units of study, emphasising that an undergraduate degree is subject to a curriculum design process where the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Programmatic strategies attend to the sequence, timing, proportions and variety of assessment tasks across modules in fostering conditions for student learning from assessment. Similarly, the consistency, range and types of feedback and feed-forward students experience are more meaningful when seen as a linked series of learning opportunities across the whole programme. Without the benefit of evidence which gives a whole programme view of assessment, these structural elements may be invisible to lecturers on a programme.

Which is fine, except .... programme level approaches further disenfranchise the poor bloody infantry in the trenches who actually teach.

"The underlying contextual factors which explain differentials in feedback timing are mainly related to resources, large class sizes and the timing of assessments, rather than disciplinary differences. Given that undergraduate student numbers have increased from about 2 million in 2000 to almost 2.5 million in 2009 (O’Prey 2011), while staff to student ratios have decreased, variations in return times are not surprising. But, resource issues raise important questions about whether the current model of tutor-dominated feedback, with an emphasis on summative assessment, is sustainable, particularly if it prevents students from getting feedback when it matters most for their learning."

Tansy Jessop, Yassein El Hakim and Graham Gibbs. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: a large-scale study of students’ learning in response to different programme assessment patterns. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 2013
Audits of 23 degree programmes in eight universities showed wide variations in assessment patterns and feedback. Scores from Assessment Experience Questionnaire returns revealed consistent relationships between characteristics of assessment and student learning responses, including a strong relationship between quantity and quality of feedback and a clear sense of goals and standards, and between both these scales and students’ overall satisfaction. Focus group data helped to explain students’ learning responses but also identified ambivalent responses to the use of formative-only assessment, particularly when it was optional. Frequently, students were unclear about goals and standards, and found feedback unhelpful when assessment demands differed across modules, and when marking standards and approaches varied widely, making it difficult for feedback to feed forwards. The methodology underpinning the Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment study described here has been used in more than 20 universities worldwide and is helping teachers to redesign assessment regimes, so that teachers’ efforts support learning better.

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