The Curriculum Framework Specification document, which provides detailed precepts and guidance for the design, development and review of all new courses at the University, contains UoP’s policy on assessment. The policy’s authors made a conscious choice to call it an Assessment For Learning Policy: the policy advocates assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning. As the policy states, assessment for learning enables a culture in which:
- students receive feedback from academics and peers that helps them to improve their work prior to final/summative assessments;
- students understand what successful work looks like for each task they are doing;
- students become more independent in their learning, taking part in peer and self-assessment;
- formative assessment is, where possible, aligned to the module summative assessment, in order to facilitate cyclical feedback opportunities which will clarify expectations and standards for the summative assignment (e.g. the student’s exam or portfolio submission).
As the University considers how to implement its new five-year strategy, however, and how to meet its ambitious vision for 2030, might we need to rethink assessment? Not rethink the approach of assessing for learning, but look again at some of the details of how we assess?
The changing nature of assessment over the coming five-year period happens to be the subject of a recent publication from JISC: The Future of Assessment: Five Principles, Five Targets for 2025. This report, the output of a day-long meeting held in 2019, identifies five key aspects of assessment and the role that technology can play. The report argues that assessment should be (in alphabetical order, not order of importance):
- Accessible – taking an inclusive approach to assessment is the ethical thing to do, of course, but we now have a legal requirement to meet certain accessibility standards. Digital technology can certainly help with accessibility. Contact DCQE if you would like further advice in this area.
- Appropriately automated – it hardly needs to be said that marking and feedback, although crucial elements of the assessment process, is time consuming. Technology can help here, too. Technology can be used to automate the process and, if the assessment has been properly designed, students get the benefit of immediate feedback. Technology might also be used to improve the quality of feedback: in this regard TEL is currently exploring the Edword platform.
- Authentic – this is, I believe, a key area for the University to develop. How does it benefit students to make them sit down for three hours and hand write an essay under exam conditions? This doesn’t prepare them for the world beyond university. Surely it’s better to assess students’ ability to work in teams; display their knowledge in a realistic setting; use the digital skills they will undoubtedly need in the workplace?
- Continuous – in order to be successful in their chosen careers, our students will need to keep up with changes wrought by technology. So perhaps the most important skill we can teach our students is how to be independent, self-directed learners. An over-reliance on high-stakes, summative exams does not help. Of particular interest to me, in the JISC report, was the mention of using AI to personalise learning and assessment: the technology is not there yet, but it might come in the next few years.
- Secure – if we are going to assess a student then we need to know we are assessing the right student! For a long time the focus in HE has been on detecting and deterring plagiarism. Nowadays, though, we also face the threat of essay mills and contract cheating. Once again technology can play a role: data forensics, stylistic analysis tools and online proctoring platforms can help tackle the problem. Such tools are best used, however, in a culture that promotes academic integrity: we should use technology to help promote a sense of academic community rather than to “catch the bad guys”.
The five principles identified by the JISC working group seem to me to be realistic and practical. They are also, if I’m being honest, slightly unambitious. I think mixed-reality technology, for example, opens up many opportunities to develop assessment for learning. But perhaps that is more for a 2030 vision than a 2025 strategy.
Credit Image: Needpix.com