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Course design and delivery encompasses a wide range of design principles. These can all be located on Academic Essentials: support for course and module design and delivery overview page.
Here, we introduce course design alongside aspects of the assessment and feedback strategy. They make it clear how the assessment strategy works holistically. This helps Programme and Course Leaders to design and co-ordinate an assessment and feedback strategy.
A good assessment strategy reflects the intended learning outcomes of the course and effectively employs a range of suitable and manageable assessment and feedback approaches. Good assessment design decisions are made within a regulatory framework by using sound design principles. The regulations can be seen as defining and prescribing the standards and parameters for practice, whilst the design principles facilitate the creative use of assessment and feedback practices to address the course context with the aim of producing engaging, innovative and purposeful learning experiences. Assessment must be tailored to the discipline and meets the needs of the students and the staff responsible for delivering the curriculum. Other contextual factors to consider include:
- the available learning environments and online technologies.
- the current state of disciplinary knowledge, discourse and practice.
- the connections that can be made to real world application and
- the University’s regulations and policies and the external quality assurance expectations and indicators for higher education.
Select one of the following themes:
|assessment and awards | quality: programme specifications | course-focussed assessment | accessible and inclusive assessment | resources|
Assessment and Awards
- The University’s Rules and Regulations: Assessment and Awards (website) guidance includes:
- standard assessment regulations, policies, procedures, verification of assessment and grade descriptors.
- independent study, prior learning, studying abroad.
- exemptions, withdrawals and student attendance and engagement.
- Academic Services:
- Assessment Regulations guidance (SP site).
- Assessment, Progression and Awards guidance (SP site).
- Exemptions – from standard assessment regulations (SP site).
- Verifications – award verifications (SP site)
- Academic Integrity – October 2017 (word document) guidance by Gillian Taylor and Denise Elliott, Student and Academic Services.
Quality: programme specifications
The QAA defines a programme specification as a ‘concise description of the intended outcomes of learning from a higher education programme, and the means by which these outcomes are achieved and demonstrated’. Read:
- QAA assessment design attributes for use across the HE sector – December 2022. On the 18th October 2022, QAA hosted an event which showcased and discussed insights and outputs from their recently completed Collaborative Enhancement Project work on embedding inclusive assessment. Register for a QAA account and watch a recording of their their presentation.
- QAA Subject Benchmark Statements (website) describe the nature of study and the academic standards expected of graduates in specific subject areas. They show what graduates might reasonably be expected to know, do and understand at the end of their studies.
- QAA’s “A launchpad for future success: using outcomes-based approaches to scaffold the pandemic year and build for the future” publication 7th May 2021 (PDF 0.52MB)
- QAA’s “How good practice in digital delivery and assessment has affected student engagement and success – an early exploration” publication 5th February 2021 (PDF 0.28MB)
- QAA’s “What is digital assessment security?” – 6th July 2021 (video)
Sheffield Hallam University is responsible to its students for the quality and standards of its academic provision. External expectations are that the University’s academic standards must meet or exceed UK threshold academic standards and offer high quality learning opportunities to students. The Quality Framework (website) incorporates all the main features of quality and standards management at the University, with reference to the relevant frameworks, policies and processes. Academic awards that are developed, approved and managed in accordance with the Quality Framework are intended to meet and exceed UK threshold academic standards and offer high quality learning opportunities to students. The Quality Framework has been approved by the University’s Academic Board to provide a reference point for all aspects of the management of quality and standards in the University.
The Curriculum Catalogue is used to manage the creation, maintenance and storage of all course and module records. Since October 2019, all modifications (module, course and large scale) are managed through the relevant “modify a module/course” function in the Curriculum Catalogue. Visit AQS Modifications (SP site) – for course modifications guidance.
Course-focused assessment describes a holistic approach to the design and delivery of a course assessment and feedback strategy. Take a look at the course-focused assessment: what, why, and how (PowerPoint) presentation that can be used with course teams. It ensures that the student’s assessment experience is optimised by having an overall conception of how they are assessed across their course. Such an approach finds, develops and promotes connections across and through levels to deliver course-focused learning outcomes.
Accessible and inclusive assessment
Assessment is an important academic process which evaluates a student’s performance and directly informs their progression and academic attainment record. It is essential that all our students experience a fair and inclusive assessment process. The term inclusive practice is used to describe an approach to teaching that recognises the diversity of students. It aims to enable all students to access course content, fully participate in learning activities and demonstrate their knowledge and strengths at assessment.
The Academic Development & Diversity Team have developed an Inclusive Design Guide to support staff who are involved in the curriculum design process. It brings together a range of definitive information about inclusive course design at Sheffield Hallam University.
Whatever your experience, this guide is intended to support you and your course team in a practical way, it aims to help you make the most of the opportunity the design and validation process provides to plan and develop your course. It contains up-to-date information which is applicable and useful to anyone who has a role in creating and refreshing courses and incorporates references to College-based information and resources where relevant.
- Myths and Truths: overview (word)
- Changing assessments (word) – to assist you in making practice based decisions in the design of accessible assessments. It works on the premise that you know the mode of assessment you would like to use on your module, or are in fact using it already on an established module.
- Barriers to access: the student experience (word) – provides examples of student’s experience with the assessment process.
Visit Academic Development & Diversity (AD&D) > Inclusive Pedagogy and Practice for a host of guidance and resources that support you in the design of an inclusive and accessible module/course.
Hallam resources and guidance
- Assessments that Work Well Online – Presented by Ian Glover and Dave Darwent, Principal Learning Technologists, Digital Learning Team, SETL at the December 2020 Course Leader Fest ‘Engaging and Thriving’.
- Evans Assessment Tool: Carol Evans 2016 (word).
- The Cultural Calendar (SP site) has been developed to help raise awareness and celebrate the diverse cultural backgrounds of our community at Sheffield Hallam University. It is also a practical tool which will help with planning meetings, exams or events when a portion of staff and students may be unavailable.
- The International Experience Team (SP site) works to provide all students with an international and intercultural experience. There are specialist services to ensure international students have the best possible experience while studying at Sheffield Hallam University.
- Irwin, B. & Hepplestone, S. (2012). Examining increased flexibility in assessment formats. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37 (7), 773-785.
- Irwin, B., Childs, J. & Hepplestone, S. (April 2016). Assessment journey : a programme to provide a seamless and improved assessment experience for staff and students. Presented at Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2016, Groningen, Netherlands.
- Case study – using formative assessment and feedback to model the approach of the outside wold in teacher education.
- Case study – using TESTA methodology to redesign assessment across an entire programme.
- Case study – reapproval: redesigning assessment across an entire department.
- Case study – using Map My Programme to visualise assessments across modules and courses.
External resources and guidance
- WonkHE: Education Espresso – changing assessment. Watch their workshop (Zoom recording / password is @Espresso22 ) – read Dr Leah Henrickson’s presentation and look at the poll results.
- Visit the Plain English Campaign’s website – encourage clear, easy to read and understand writing. This is useful for all readers but in particular for dyslexic students or non-native speakers of English. If you are writing assessments or other information for students it may be useful to familiarise yourself with the free of charge guides available.
- The Re-engineering Assessment Practices (REAP website) principles support good formative assessment and feedback, which in turn are based on the research on assessment:
- Gibbs and Simpson, 2004.
- Nicol and McFarlane-Dick, 2006.
- Nicol and Draper, 2009)
- Viewpoints Project – Viewpoints Toolkit (website) – which can be used to guide design discussions with course teams.
- A-Z Assessment Methods – Reading University. (website).
- UTA Assessment Design: MMU University Teaching Academy (website)
- Assessment and Feedback – resources to support you to develop effective assessments and provide appropriate feedback to facilitate inspiring learning.
- SEDA – helping designers design effective online learning – new tool ‘e-Design Assessment Tool’ (eDAT).
Assessment with ‘online in mind’
An online model is where the student learning and assessment experience is enhanced through the appropriate use of technologies. There’s a wide range of technology enhanced guidance and resources to support assessment and feedback with ‘online in mind’:
Formative V Summative Assessment
Assessments can be categorised as diagnostic, formative or summative. Put simply:
- diagnostic assessment: identifies students’ needs and establishes expectations.
- formative assessment: describes challenging activities designed to engage the learner in ways that promote learning, self-evaluation and reflection on learning, that lead to useful feedback being given and applied by the learner.
- summative assessment: is a task designed to evaluate what a student knows so that a grade can be produced that is commensurate with the student’s standard of achievement as measured against the module or course learning outcomes and assessment criteria.
Academic Services: Principles and Process for setting summative Assessment Submission Dates in 2022-2023 (for Coursework) (word) staff guidance outlines a set of Principles and a Process to ensure that every student is provided with a complete assessment schedule* at the start of each yearly teaching period, to improve student experience (to help the students plan for their summative assessments and because a large number of student related processes depend on timely and accurate summative assessment submission dates being in place, e.g. RESD).
The Formative Assessment March 2019 (word) guidance defines formative assessment, it’s role in teaching and learning and considers how it is different in form and purpose to summative assessment and how formative and summative assessment work in relation to each other.
Teaching Delivery (SETL): Formative assessment (website) guidance and Teaching Delivery (SETL): summative assessment support (website) guidance – can be used for supporting students completing both individual and group work.
Refer to Assessment Essentials: Setting (module level): assessment scheduling (webpage) – group work.
The Digital Learning Team Support (website) model provides each department with their own DLT contact. They provide a wide range of guidance on using technologies to support your course design and planning:
- Guides (website): provides an overview of the type of technologies available for assessment and feedback.
- Help with Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL Help website): covers a number of guides on setting up Blackboard modules and assessment tasks and key aspects of the Threshold Standards (website).
- Re-envisioning online course revisions – covering an effective course revision plan including formative and summative assessment and feedback methods.
What are learning outcomes?
Learning outcomes describe what a student should know, understand or be able to do as a consequence of successfully completing their whole course, a particular level of their course, or an individual module. Well-defined learning outcomes articulate observable and measurable behaviours from which key assessment criteria can be derived. They also provide students with an appreciation of what learning is expected of them and helps to provide them with a focus for how they will develop as they progress through the course.
As students progress through the levels and between awards they are expected to become less dependent and more able to deal with unstructured and uncertain situations and these will be reflected in the learning outcomes. Consequently, establishing the learning outcomes of a course and those of its constituent awards, levels and modules is a fundamental part of the curriculum design process.
Why are learning outcomes important?
Learning outcomes help you to:
- be more precise when planning, supporting and assessing learning
- make effective linkages between your learning and teaching activities and assessment tasks and the feedback you give to your students.
- articulate the level of learning you expected from your students.
- write your assessment criteria.
- make explicit any underpinning values, attitudes and skills that are not reflected in descriptions of content.
Writing learning outcomes
Level descriptors provide the starting point for the development of the learning outcomes for a Course Descriptor, Module Description or a specific learning activity.
Module learning outcomes should make clear the purpose of each module while being congruent with the course outcomes and aims and in appropriate relation to the study levels. You should aim to keep learning outcomes simple, not too wordy and concise and address:
- Module learning outcomes which consider content specifically delivered through a module.
- Cross-cutting course learning outcomes, including learning capabilities, dispositions and attributes associated with the course. Module learning outcomes should;
- Ideally one sentence.
- Sticking to 4 or 5 per module isn’t a bad idea.
- More detail can always be put on the pass / grade descriptors / module handbook.
- Keep them simple and in Plain English where possible.
- Do they / will they actually mean anything to students?
- Can they be understood by someone else?
The level descriptors can help you to develop learning outcomes that articulate the knowledge, understanding, and skills you expect your students to be able to demonstrate at a particular level and as they progress through their programme of study.
- ‘A guide to Learning Outcomes’ November 2017 (word document).
University Grade Descriptors
- Grade (or standard) descriptors: are statements that clearly describe the differences in the quality of students’ work. They articulate the typical characteristics that a student’s assessed work will need to demonstrate to achieve a particular grade or meet the requirements of a particular grade band.
- Pass descriptors: articulates the typical characteristics that a student’s assessed work will need to demonstrate to achieve a pass at a threshold level.
Please read these resources in conjunction with Assessment Essentials: Marking and Feedback > Marking assessments > grade-based assessments (GBA) guidance.
Grade descriptors ensure the marking process is consistent and should normally be made available to students as part of an assessment brief. Well-written descriptors enhance the assessment criteria and help to make the assessment task clear to students and indicate what they will have to demonstrate to achieve a particular grade.
The Academic Board has approved a revised University Grade Descriptor for use in academic year 2021/22. Please follow the links below to see the revised version, a FAQ document and a screencast which will support you in using it. Further support is available from your Associate Dean Teaching and Learning or Head of Teaching and Learning Enhancement.
Revised version (plus the original version) are published on University’s Rules and Regulations: assessment and awards (website):
- University Grade Descriptors (revised: FY, L4, L5, new L7) – September 2022
- University Grade Descriptors (original: level 6/any continuing students) – September 2022
The adoption of this revised grade descriptor will bring immediate benefits but is also part of a journey towards grade based assessment so you are strongly encouraged to view the screencast (13 minutes) as this provides a clear explanation of how plans for the implementation of GBA supports our assessment values.
- FY – revised UGD
- L4 – revised UGD
- L5 – original UGD
- L6 – original UGD
- L7 (new enrolments) – revised UGD
- SEEC Resources (website).
- Frameworks for HE Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies (website).
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