effective assessment in higher education

The sixteen indicators of effective assessment in higher education is a useful checklist (link broken, new source needed!) that provides a timely opportunity to review the changes introduced to the unit I inherited at the start of the current trimester. I reflect here on a several, but not all the indicators and address their concerns in relation to the changes I made to the assessments for the unit.

Assessment is treated by staff and students as an integral and prominent component of the entire teaching and learning process rather than a final adjunct to it.

The content for the unit had not been revised since 2007, which for a Media and Communication subject is almost an ice age (and it proved problematic all trimester), but after babysitting a 200 level unit in the first trimester I was also less than satisfied with the general standard of writing, analysis, research and reflection demonstrated by the student’s approach to writing essays.

In the past I’d achieve fantastic results by removing traditional assessment practices like exams and essays, replacing them with a continuous blogging assessment structure with a peer review component, which then became the focus for the unit and influenced what elements of the course materials I reviewed on the fly.

The multiple roles of assessment are recognised. The powerful motivating effect of assessment requirements on students is understood and assessment tasks are designed to foster valued study habits.

Through previous experimentation I had found that a short weekly blogging task coupled with a peer review assessment, introduced students to a repertoire of digital literacy skills and help to encourage regular writing and reviewing habits to help foster better research and analysis.

Tutors cannot be expected to read all the blog posts each week, so the peer review eliminates the need for constant surveillance and encourages students to take on the responsibility of monitoring, evaluating and engaging with each others’ work through a compulsory comment requirement (each student must comment on two blogs per week) and a grading component (each student uses the same grading rubric as the tutors to to evaluate each other’s work).

As with previous years, I’ve found this approach draws on the students’ intrinsic drive for learning, and encourages the completion of their posts on time and to a high standard, as they contributed to a micro, but vibrant, public sphere in the awareness of the whole student cohort as their audience. Students often go well beyond the minimum effort required for the task.

There is a faculty/departmental policy that guides individuals‟ assessment practices. Subject assessment is integrated into an overall plan for course assessment.

The blogging assessment starts in the first week of the trimester, and students are required to read, conduct further research and compose their reflections from day one. This proved to be a challenge at Deakin, as the School/Faculty policy allows student to enrol in units quite late in the trimester.

Those students coming late into the subject had to work harder and with less feedback those those who started in week one, and of course there are always students who consider the idea of a weekly writing task daunting and find themselves catching up at the last minute in week five, week nine and week twelve when students nominate a single post to be formally assessed.

Assessment tasks assess the capacity to analyse and synthesise new information and concepts rather than simply recall information previously presented.

The students are required to review the lecture and background materials (including traditional readings as well as online video, podcasts, and other blogs), select a single concept to examine, discuss and expand their writing through the use of hypertext links and embedded media. The individual blog posts are limited to 250 words, and this is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the process for many students, as it forces them to think much more strategically about their writing choices. This constraint is countered with the final piece of the assessment which involves reworking one of their posts into an extended scholarly blog with a 1200 minimum word count

A variety of assessment methods is employed so that the limitations of particular methods are minimised. Assessment tasks are designed to assess relevant generic skills as well as subject-specific knowledge and skills.

There is a steady progression in the complexity and demands of assessment requirements in the later years of courses.

Each blog post must address the four elements of the task, which can be abbreviated here as concept, definition, discussion and exemplification. Each component of the overall assessment is essentially the same, but students are encouraged to use digital communication practices and media rich methods to approach the task differently each week: we have student’s video blogging, live podcasting, and using Pinterest, Reddit, G+ and other social networks and web sites to expand the connectivity of their blog and increase their audience via the affordances of the web. The extended scholarly blog also begins to bridge the gap between the critical, but often informal, voice that students adopt for the blogs and their writing in other units.

There is provision for student choice in assessment tasks and weighting at certain times. Student and staff workloads are considered in the scheduling and design of assessment tasks

The ideal version of assessment would allow students to submit their blogs for assessment by the tutor in their own time, but this places too great a demand on the time and availability of the tutor.

Excessive assessment is avoided. Assessment tasks are designed to sample student learning.

A delicate balance, more for the tutors than the students, and I will be reducing the number of times the blogs are assessed when I run the unit again, from three to two, in order to help alleviate the added administration and marking time caused by the fully online submission. I do like saving trees, but it can be more labour intensive for some tutors less used to providing feedback in digital form.

Grades are calculated and reported on the basis of clearly articulated learning outcomes and criteria for levels of achievement.

I spent a great deal of time at the start of the trimester aligning the activities of the blog and peer review assessment task with the explicitly and clearly stated grading rubrics matching the unit and graduate outcomes and attributes to the demands of the content but more recently I’ve began to doubt the effectiveness and perspicacity of grading. I don’t consider the need for a grade other than a pass/fail to be required for the situation and all students who fail the first two rounds of assessment are afforded the opportunity to revise and resubmit. Students are also encouraged to revise their blog posts at any stage in response to their peer and assessment feedback.

Students receive explanatory and diagnostic feedback as well as grades.

The submission of the blog fulfills multiple purposes, the student is required to copy their comment logs, grading rubrics and a single nominated pot into a word document that is uploaded to the DSO dropbox. Comments and feedback is marked up in the word document and the grading rubric. The brevity of the posts helps to ensure tutors are able to turn around feedback remarkably quickly and students can implement changes at any time.

Plagiarism is minimised through careful task design, explicit education and appropriate monitoring of academic honesty.

The blogging structure and peer evaluation makes direct plagiarism more difficult, although students do invariably find new ways to game the system. I did note a small degree of repurposed materials from other units, which I don’t discourage, and it was noted by other students who made recommendations on how to redraft these posts to better fit with the scholarly and critical blog genre.