"Students need to be given the opportunity to take part in the processes of making academic judgements to help them develop ‘appropriate evaluative expertise themselves’ and make more sense of and take greater control of their own learning."
University of Dundee
Why is assessment literacy important?
This refers to understanding the process of making academic judgements, how this may be achieved and the benefits and limitations of different approaches. Both staff and students need to develop this understanding and we cover the topic of staff assessment literacy in the section on developing academic practice. Here, we look at student assessment literacy.
The term assessment literacy is still uncommon. We talk increasingly about study skills, graduate attributes and digital literacies but none of these fully addresses student understanding of, and engagement in, the overall assessment process.
What are the common problems?
HE in particular has slowly moved away from a sector as the pinnacle of a highly selective pyramid in which students arrive equipped with the skills they need to succeed at this level of study. This often results in a remedial approach whereby support for study skills bolts on to the curriculum to address the needs of weaker students, rather than an inclusive approach which engages students as active participants in making academic judgements.1
"Assessment literacy is an iterative process, and therefore course design and implementation should provide unhurried opportunities and time within and across programmes to develop complex knowledge and skills, and to create a clear paths for progression."
Higher Education Academy
A review of study skills materials available online shows a distinct emphasis on developing assessment technique through essay writing, presentation and preparing for exams rather than understanding the nature and purpose of assessment and feedback practice. More integrated approaches that emphasise graduate attributes or employability skills as key course outcomes can still fail to make the connection between the development of these skills and assessment practice.
The issue is however by no means confined to HE. A common observation in OFSTED reports on failing colleges is that there is insufficient use of pre-course assessments to plan and teach to meet the needs of individual learners.
Peer review is an activity that can be very beneficial in developing assessment literacy because it engages students with assessment criteria and enables them to practice making evaluative judgements. It can however be an unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable activity for many students so it is important to outline the purpose and benefits of such techniques at an early stage.
How might we use technology and what are the benefits?
Providing online information about assessment criteria and marking rubrics and so on makes the information readily accessible to students.
Technology can be used to support activities such as peer review to help develop assessment literacy.
Text matching tools that generate an originality report for each assignment can be used to support the development of academic writing skills such as appropriate referencing and citation. Using the tools in a formative way with students can be more productive than simply using them to assist with the detection of plagiarism.
How does assessment literacies relate to the lifecycle?
At the specifying and setting stages you will think about how assignment tasks allow students to develop and practice skills with the tasks becoming progressively more complex. Throughout the supporting stage, from induction onwards, you will seek to engage students with the overall process of assessment and develop their capacity for making academic judgements.
At the submitting stage, students can make use of originality reports generated by text matching tools to check their referencing and citation.
What resources can help?
Our video outlines how Bath Spa and Winchester Universities improved assessment and feedback practice with the aid of student fellows:
- Find out more about Bath Spa and Winchester universities' student fellow scheme including a video of student fellows talking about their experiences
- Our case study from Cumbernauld College outlines how the college developed targeted formative and summative assessment tasks in Moodle to improve grammar
- Oxford Brookes University's guide outlines how to improve your students' performance in 90 minutes (pdf)
- The Assessment Futures website has some useful guidance on developing students' assessment skills.
Student led individually created courses
Edinburgh College of Art uses a model called Student Led Individually Created Courses (SLICCs) to embed assessment for learning approaches and employability into the curriculum. Students create their own course, self-reflect and formatively self-assess their own learning with supervision by tutors.
Student project proposals must detail the learning activities together with how they will evidence the set learning outcomes (which are the same for all students and include employability learning outcomes). Tutors sign off the academic viability of the proposal. Students must re-interpret the learning outcomes in their own words in their proposal and this aids student understanding of what is required of them and how they will be assessed.
Students have to regularly evidence and articulate their learning as it unfolds (aligned to the set learning outcomes), using an e-portfolio and digital artefacts. Tutors do not formally lecture in this model but they provide regular formative feedback via the e-portfolio based on the principle that feedback requires students to take action.
SLICCs is also linked to the university’s Edinburgh Award, enabling a certificate of recognition from the university to be gained and an entry on their Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).
Peer assisted learning (PAL) schemes
Many universities run PAL schemes which allow students to provide cross-year support to one another. Schemes such as that implemented at Bournemouth University serve to:
- Support student learning
- Foster cross-year support for students with new students supported by those from the year above
- Enhance students' experience of university life
- Encourage collaborative learning rather than competitive learning
- Create a safe environment where students are encouraged to ask questions
- Help students gain insight into the requirements of their course and their lecturers' expectations
- Encourage active and independent learning
- Improve student retention and achievement
- Give PAL leaders opportunities to revisit their prior learning
Students as change agents
Bath Spa and Winchester Universities use paid student fellows to act as change agents, co-developers and co-researchers in developing their assessment practice.
In training their first set of student fellows the universities introduced the students to the institutions' educational principles and to current thinking about assessment practice from the research literature, as well as taking them through the overall process. This gave the students a much broader base on which to draw than simply their own prior experience and gave them a different understanding of processes that had previously seemed complicated and incomprehensible.
A number of student fellows recognised the "naivety" with which they had previously viewed some aspects of the process.
- 1 For a discussion of these issues see Wingate, U. (2006) Doing away with 'study skills'. Teaching in Higher Education, vol 11, No. 4, October 2006, pp 457-469. http://embeddingskills.hud.ac.uk/sites/embeddingskills.hud.ac.uk/files/W...