Assessment is a central element in learners’ higher education experience, but often it is also one of the most daunting experiences for many students for different reasons. The heavily teacher-centred, lecture-based higher education experience where students are the passive recipients of knowledge is changing, but are our assessments methods, our beliefs in what to evaluate and how to evaluate, changing as well?
At Goldsmiths, we value active student engagement, co-construction, independent and critical thinking in all our programmes. We are committed to promoting access and diversity and strive for inclusion, equality and social justice in education and in the broader society. There are particular methods of assessment that align with our vision and values:
Assessment for Learning (Formative Assessment)
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.
TES Assessment for Learning Toolkit (a resource that provides “70 different activities, ideas or tools based around assessment for learning”)
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 starting points in their educational journey, and might have different learning preferences;
- 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;
- places emphasis on the learning process;
- is inclusive as it is open to diversity and different ways of learning;
- encourages self-reflection.
Key principles: Inclusion, diversity, accessibility.
Teacher roles: Facilitator, mentor, guide.
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. 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. With varied assessment:
- assessment could be more authentic/relevant to students (e.g., via case studies, research);
- students develop a diverse set of skills (i.e., other than essay writing);
- students benefit from choice and diversity.
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 and interpersonal skills.