What you need to know
Assessment and feedback lie at the very heart of learning and teaching, so getting assessment and feedback right pays dividends both in terms of successful learning outcomes and improving student satisfaction.
One of the biggest shifts we have seen in learning design in recent years is towards assessment for learning, an approach that focuses on high-quality formative assessment and feedback rather than assessment of learning, typically at the end of a course or module.
Why good assessment design matters
What we now know is that assessment for learning can encourage students to take responsibility for improving their own performance as they progress through a course or module. In this way, they develop skills of self-regulation that stand them in good stead throughout their lives as learners and employees.
If your assessment and feedback practices are stuck in a rut, digital offers a range of ways to change it for the better.
Here are some top tips on how you can build in an assessment for learning approach:
- Make assessment more engaging by incorporating activities based on blogging or peer assessment and review
- Cut down time spent on written feedback by giving audio feedback to the whole group then asking students to show how they have adjusted their own performance in the light of your feedback
- Wherever possible, make assessment more varied and inclusive by allowing students to draw on their personal experience and provide choice over topics, format and timing of assignments. Formats other than the written essay are harder to plagiarise too
- Ensure that learners can act on their feedback by making visible when all assignments in a modular programme are due. This helps avoid assignment bunching, evens out student effort and shows exactly how students are to be assessed
- Provide opportunities for self-testing. Encourage students to access these on their own electronic devices while in the classroom as well as in their own time
- Using social media, enable students to open up their developing work to critical scrutiny from peers, employers and other experts
- Build in reflective tasks to help students evaluate their progress towards learning goals
Need more ideas?
See Learnhigher's 10 top tips for assessment for learning in higher education. TES also offers a free assessment for learning toolkit.
What the experts say
“Graham Gibbs' throw-away line ‘If feedback is not back in ten days, it's not worth doing’ is controversial and irritating to academics - if - and here's the big if - they carry on doing assessment and feedback in the same way… On the other hand, if it is a significant departure from the accrual of masses of marks through masses of summative assessment, then there are wise strategies to achieve the ten day aspiration. And what's more, it will not compromise quality, because it is likely to encourage student learning and engagement.”
Tansy Jessop, professor of research informed teaching, Southampton Solent University
Be inspired - case studies
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian University and University of Glasgow – putting principles into practice
The Re-engineering Assessment Practices (REAP) project in 2010 proposed that learning and assessment designs should enable students to take responsibility for their own learning.
Doing so develops students’ capacity to make evaluative judgements about the quality and impact of their own work, resulting in learning that is ‘deeper, more sustainable and satisfying’.
Our short video explains how the REAP principles, now widely recognised across the UK and worldwide, have impacted on practice at Strathclyde. The related PEER project developed these ideas further to show the importance of peer evaluation in enhancing learning.
University of Greenwich – getting assessment right
For the University of Greenwich, getting assessment right is a key target. Use of TESTA, a Higher Education Academy-funded project to enhance assessment, and the university’s own tool, Map My Assessment, are now compulsory and built in to the quality assurance framework.
Based on the conceptual work of the University of Hertfordshire’s ESCAPE project, Map My Assessment reveals the distribution of assessments on courses and programmes. This helps staff ‘design out’ assignment bunching and in turn helps students better manage their time. It also exposes the variety of formats set, and the relationship between formative and summative assessments.
Built into the student information system, assessment maps are visible to both students and personal tutors to improve the transparency of information on assessment and to provide clear guidance to students.
"There is an issue of 'assessment by stealth' that we are trying to address. Using TESTA it is increasingly difficult for programme teams to hide assessments. What we want to do is report on assessment 'in truth' to help students better manage their time."
Simon Walker, head of educational development, University of Greenwich
Blackburn College – digital goes hand in hand with traditional methodologies
Experience at Blackburn College shows that even traditional assessment practices can be enhanced with technology. The college’s university centre found that timed examinations were often required by professional bodies and universities so they developed a VLE-based exam for students on an education studies degree programme.
Questions are posted on the VLE one week before the due date, students have that week to complete their answer and upload it. The exam is still timed – seven days is the deadline – and tests a wide range of skills. It also tests staff as they have to be able to write questions requiring a response that can only be made through personal research, such as reflective comment and case studies.
"The VLE based exam is a different experience for students. The technology enables them to take the exam anywhere, and the content is not reliant on memory alone. Technology changes the where, the how, and the what."
Peter Shukie, education studies course leader, University Centre, Blackburn College
Loughborough College – digital can make the difference
GCSE English resit students at Loughborough College learn difficult vocabulary by testing themselves on their mobile devices with the language learning app, Memrise.
Competing with each other to earn badges for each test motivates students to tackle less appealing aspects of the curriculum. This assessment-for-learning approach also helps staff track individuals’ progress so they can provide more support to those who need it.
Students have responded well to this games-based approach to learning, and it is now established across the department. Accessible anytime and anywhere, with the option of working offline if necessary, many learners are motivated to work independently.
“We bring up the stats at the start of each lesson to see who has completed a particular quiz and been badged, and who hasn’t. Then I give them 10 minutes on their phones to improve their score. After that, we get on with the class.”
Tracey Maitland, teaching and learning lead for English, Loughborough College
Sheffield Hallam University - assessing programme-level assessments via e-portfolios
The design of a new degree in paramedic science at Sheffield Hallam University has prompted fresh thinking about how the course is to be assessed.
Experience had shown that meeting the learning outcomes of individual modules did not necessarily mean students felt entirely equipped for their new role. In response, the course team devised a self-assessment tool so that students can measure their own progress against programme-level outcomes.
Now in action, the tool reveals how students feel they are achieving on the course, and thus where additional support may be needed. It has also helped the course team identify where the curriculum needs to be strengthened.
“It was not immediately apparent to us to what extent students felt confident in their ability to meet the overarching programme-level outcomes. We needed to develop a system to track the students’ progress towards meeting the higher-level outcomes throughout their three-year programme.”
Andrew Kirke, senior lecturer in paramedic science, Sheffield Hallam University
- Check your practice against the well-known REAP principles of good assessment design
- Try out the assessment and feedback timeline patterns from the ESCAPE project to help you embed assessment for learning
- Here are some worked examples:
- Watch a video on the University of Greenwich’s Map My Assessment tool
- Try our assessment for learning benchmarking tool for FE and skills