Friday, June 12, 2015

A fundamental misalignment: undergraduate science research projects

Darwin The Problem: An industrialized scale higher education system where "research projects" concentrate on the product rather than the process.

Proposed Solution:
"Our analysis suggests that even highly experienced academics involved in the provision of undergraduate research projects experience a range of contradictions around their assessment and evaluation. At the base of these contradictions lies the need for contextual judgement in the assessment of desired higher order, process-related learning outcomes and the misalignment between assessment and desired learning. It is perhaps not surprising, given the role of the journal article as the currency of scientific worth, that formal reports have been adopted as the dominant mode of assessment. However, the misalignment between this mode and the intended learning could be substantially avoided if assessment practices were to be redesigned. While we do not suggest abandoning formal reports, we do advocate the development of ways to make complex learning and higher order thinking visible as an additional and substantial component of assessment, and the concomitant development of appropriate grading criteria. In their study of unassessed, not-for-credit research experiences in science, Laursen et al. (2010) outlined a range of informal ‘markers for growth’ used by project supervisors in judging their students’ progress. They included cognitive, affective and behavioural markers: signs that students were engaging in or developing critical thinking, an understanding of the conceptual framework their project was part of, engagement in research, learning through problem-solving, dealing with risk and uncertainty, and developing independence. They have much in common with the intended learning outcomes described here. As well as confirming and expanding on the importance of these markers, our findings provide more concrete illustrations of the actions and thinking in which a student is expected to engage. We suggest that such (predictive) descriptions could form the basis for formal as well as informal judgements of student progress and achievement. In addition, their very richness and contextual specificity provides a valuable basis for students to form an understanding of how to progress and develop."

Unassessable or simply unassessed?

A fundamental misalignment: intended learning and assessment practices in undergraduate science research projects. (2015) Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education doi: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1048505
Authentic experiences of research are seen as valuable elements of undergraduate science, providing motivation for students and linking the research and teaching activities of academics. But as such experiences are made available to increasing numbers of students as formal, graded parts of the curriculum, important questions are raised about their pedagogical function and the ways in which they are assessed. This article draws on interviews with academics involved in the provision of such experiences to ask: what do academics intend that their students learn, and do conventional approaches to project assessment relate clearly and effectively to these intended outcomes? We describe four categories of intended learning and suggest that conventional approaches to assessment are fundamentally misaligned with most of these outcomes. We argue that this is due to the focus of these approaches on the products, rather than the processes and experiences, of research, a focus that partly arises from a sense of discomfort with assessment based on context-dependent judgements informed by subconscious expertise. We further suggest that alternative approaches to assessment could build on academics’ own descriptions of the experiences and behaviours they value in students.

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