Assessment: General Principles and Resources

This is a photo from Computational Arts Show. It shows a man looking at objects on a row of shelves

Assessment and feedback are a major part of teaching in any discipline. They are, in fact, often argued to be “the two sides of the same coin”. Indeed, how we assess should perfectly align with how we teach. If, for example, the disciplinary content emphasises creativity and emergent thinking, the assessment method should also direct students to a creative path of practice, where emergent outcomes are welcomed. What students and teachers learn from assessment and feedback, and the ways in which the disciplinary content is taught should also inform one another. This reflective and iterative cycle is the precondition for progress in Higher Education pedagogy. It may change the teaching methods we use, our educational philosophies, learning outcomes, and, over time, the wider culture of the academic discipline and institution.

Careful consideration of assessment is particularly important for students with educational needs. There is a greater need for creativity when thinking about students with, for example, dyslexia, visual impairment, or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Teachers may not always be aware of the different educational needs present in a class (students don’t always bring them to attention), but varied assessment benefits everyone, including and especially for those for whom it may not be obvious.

At Goldsmiths, we value active student engagement, co-construction, independent and critical thinking and inclusivity in all our programmes. There are particular methods of assessment that align with this student-centred approach:

Assessment for Learning

Key principles: Meta-cognition, feed-forward, formative assessment.
Teacher role: Facilitator, mentor, guide.

Assessment for learning is the use of formative assessment and feedback to inform future work. This is different than assessment of learning, which typically is the practice of evaluating students’ work summatively at the end of a course or module.

It is important for students to see assessment as an opportunity to further develop their practice, rather than a judgement of their past or “finished” work. JISC notes that assessment for learning “can encourage students to take responsibility of their learning as they progress through a course or module”. The following teaching principles are essential for the success of this approach:

  • giving learners ample opportunities for self-reflection (this can be built into the assessment itself);
  • a focus on students’ potential and future possibilities, rather than past performance;
  • good use of formative assessment and feed-forward.

Resources

Designing learning and assessment in a digital age: Assessment (JISC)

TES Assessment for Learning Toolkit (a great resource that provides “70 different activities, ideas or tools based around assessment for learning”.)

Ipsative Assessment

Key principles: Agency, inclusion, self-directed learning.
Teacher roles: Convenor, facilitator, mentor, guide.

Ipsative approaches allow tutors and learners to focus on personal progress based on personal goals. JISC has defined ipsative assessment as “an assessment based on a learner’s previous work rather than based on performance against external criteria and standards.” Ipsative assessment is a good example for assessment for learning as well, as learners set their own goals and develop their practice in a way that suits them best. The approach is particularly helpful for learners to have agency in their learning as it creates more space for creativity and co-construction, compared to traditional standards-based assessment methods. Learners’ prior experience is recognised and used as a catalyst for professional and personal development. Ipsative assessment:

  • recognises that learners might have different learning styles and starting points in their educational journey;
  • recognises that standards and criteria based assessment are not always the best for students and have limitations;
  • helps students establish their own personal goals, thus giving them agency over their learning;
  • can be combined with other assessment methods;
  • places emphasis on the learning process;
  • is inclusive as it is open to diversity and different ways of learning;
  • encourages self-reflection.

Example
Ipsative approaches can be difficult to achieve with work submitted anonymously and marked by different tutors. One way Goldsmiths’ Department of Psychology have achieved this is by designing an online coversheet for each assessment, which includes a text box for students to reflect on previous relevant assessment feedback and indicate what aspect of feedback on their current work they would like tutors to focus on.

Resources

Is competition good for learning? Exploring ipsative assessment as an alternative by Gwyneth Hughes

The applicability of visible learning to higher education by John Hattie

Authentic Assessment

Key principles: Situated knowledge, complexity, community of practice.
Teacher roles: Co-learner, facilitator, mentor, guide.

Authentic assessment corresponds with authentic learning, which is a theory of learning that challenges the separation of knowing and doing in traditional education. Authentic learning acknowledges the situated nature of knowledge and advocates for teaching approaches that provide authentic contexts for learning. Placements, internships, studio-based practice, discussions where students put theoretical ideas into use are all examples for authentic practice. Authentic assessment may present students a scenario akin to real-life situation or assess students’ learning in a real-life setting. Authentic assessment:

  • recognises the complexity of learning;
  • strives to bridge informal and formal learning opportunities;
  • puts students into situations where they engage in the practices of their discipline;
  • allows for collaboration and co-construction (e.g., through group projects, peer-to-peer learning);
  • encourages self-reflection;
  • is responsive to the learning context.

Example
The Department of Theater and Performance has 100% practice-based assignments where students, either individually or as a group, perform their work to an audience of peers and examiners. An example for this would be the module Questions of Performance (English and Drama Pathway) in which students explore gender and identity and their potential for performance and performativity. Because students are expected to experiment with ensemble practice throughout the module, assessment is also performative and group-based. Students are evaluated against a set of practice-based criteria, all of which are essential elements of professional performances (for example, 
execution of concept, application of skills, collaboration and articulation).

Resources

Elements of authentic learning: Authentic assessment by Jan Herrington

Co-Assessment

Key principles: Co-construction, peer-to-peer learning, meta-cognition.
Teacher roles: Facilitator, mentor, guide.

Co-assessment aligns with social and collaborative approaches to learning and teaching. Peer-reviews, peer- or self-grading based on a set of pre-defined criteria, student-led feedback sessions are all examples for co-assessment. The approach is a useful way to build a supportive learning community and break the habits of traditional, teacher-led higher education pedagogy. Self-assessment, in particular, is an excellent way to bring meta-cognition (a critical awareness and understanding of one’s own thinking) into learning.

Co-assessment can help students better understand assessment criteria and the standards they are expected to meet in their work, but beyond that, it helps students:

  • understand that learning is a process;
  • understand that assessment is a mutual process of learning: both the assessor and the assessed learn from one another and from the process;
  • develop a sense of agency in their learning;
  • develop important meta-cognitive skills.

Resources

Transforming the Assessment and Feedback Landscape: Students as Partners by JISC

Additional Resources

How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school by the National Research Council (US)

Assessment choice for all from alternatives for a few by Deborah Custance

University of Reading’s website Engage in Assessment has excellent information, advice and resources on the following topics: