Prior to our recent event, Contemporary Approaches to Teaching – December 10th 2013, we asked participants to submit questions for a panel ‘question time’ on the theme of ‘integrating technology in learning’ and teaching’ and ‘what prevents you or your colleagues from integrating technology in your teaching’.
While the panel was able to respond to some of the questions on the day, there wasn’t time to address them all. To enable all questions to receive a response we will be posting them on the blog over the coming weeks.
We would be really interested in receiving your comments and feedback about the questions, the panel responses and your own experience.
This week’s question:
“The ‘2 assessment points per module’ restriction has forced my colleagues and I to essentially switch to high-stakes, end-module assessments.
This reduces our ability to monitor the progress of our students and correct any problems of understanding. Students also seldom complete formative assessments because they prioritise those that influence their final grade.
Does the panel have any possible solutions to this problem?”
A response to this question was provided by: Graham Holden – University Head of Learning, Teaching and Assessment, Emily Connor – Education Officer, Students Union and Eddie Mighten – Principal lecturer in Health and Wellbeing
Graham responded: “Engaging students comes down to the design of our courses and modules. We are actively designing learning experiences that motivate and engage our students.
The primary reason for restricting the amount of assessment was based on feedback from our students, and was introduced with the intention of, enhancing their assessment experience by:
- reducing the assessment burden on students
- reducing assessment bunching and regulating student workload (with associated benefits for academic staff marking)
- simplifying arrangements and embedding consistency for students with deferred or referred work
- providing transparency in the assessment schedule for students, academic staff (for marking), and administrative staff (for managing assessment and support processes)
Less summative assessment that is carefully scheduled should mean that academic staff have more time to ensure that feedback is returned within 3 weeks. For scheduling to work effectively and for students to have a balanced assessment experience requires course teams to meet and plan across modules thus aiding course coherence – another key issue raised routinely by students.
Designing the assessment experience across the whole student experience (rather than on a single module) is one way of promoting student engagement with their learning and developing principles of assessment for learning. There are excellent external resources available to help course teams have a better appreciation of the assessment experience and the relationships between modules (e.g. the ESCAPE Project), and evidence-based approaches to mapping assessment based on the theory that students’ learning is linked to their experience of assessment on the whole programme (e.g. TESTA Project).
The change to a restricted number of assessment tasks, as the question articulates, does create a tension in terms of student engagement. It is certainly true that assessment drives student learning and it is not surprisingly that in some modules student engagement drops when there is less low stakes summative assessment. The issue could be the way in which we currently conceive of formative assessment.
Formative activities are essentially, about ‘forming’ the student and their learning, and students play a major role in their own self-formation. Formative assessment, properly integrated within the design of the learning experience can offer a rich environment which promotes student engagement. Formative activities not only help tutors to monitor students’ progress and become aware of difficulties in learning, it also provides information to help tutors adjust and adapt their teaching as they go along.”
Emily further commented that, “It’s not just within formal assessment that students can discover how well they are doing on their course, module or a specific topic. This is one area where the Personal Tutor system or an overall positive and open dialogue can have an incredible impact. A lot of formative assessment can be translated into a confidence about the subject itself, if students are able to talk about a module confidently with a member of staff, regardless of their specialism, then it would suggest that they are well prepared for any summative assessment they might have in the future.” And Eddie said ”Formative assessment and feedback play a vital role in helping students develop their ‘assessment literacy’ in not only understanding the criteria for assessment but how to use feedback effectively for their learning.”
Graham further articulated that: “It may be better to therefore consider all elements of a module to be formative, not just the assessment, otherwise they are probably not worth doing. This conceptualisation that all learning activities are formative translates into approaches that promote and encourage learner engagement for example:
- Designing activities that help students believe they can learn and building their confidence will motivate them to learn and encourages engagement.
- Enabling students to work autonomously, enjoy learning relationships with others, and feel they are competent to achieve their own objectives
- Tutors are central to engagement —if a tutor is perceived to be approachable, well prepared, and sensitive to student needs, students are committed to work harder, get more out of the session, and are more willing to express their opinion
- Create learning that is active, collaborative, and fosters learning relationships e.g. active learning in groups
- Challenge matters – students want to be challenged – easy learning activities and assignments are not as effective at engaging students as activities and assignments that challenge them. When students are reflecting, questioning, evaluating, and making connections between ideas, they are engaged.
- Learning should be relevant, authentic and current – so many of the comments in the NSS relate to the curriculum content and its relevance / currency.
- Tutor co-operation fosters the development of Communities of Practice, making explicit and modelling ideas of mutual benefit, joint enterprise and shared practice and commitment. Co-operation across academic teams helps to ensure consistency in ethos and approach while valuing individual strengths.
The literature is rich in examples of how to promote learner engagement and embrace technology in doing so The REAP Project at Strathcylde aimed to redesign assessment and feedback processes in ways that would help learners develop the skills to regulate and assess their own learning. The site has a number of practical subject based examples which support the principles above – well worth a look.”
In summary it all comes down to design at course and module level and ensuring that assessment is an integral part of that design.
A final comment by Eddie: “It is about understanding that assessment is a part of the learning experience and as such should be ‘brought in’ and not left on the outside of the learning experience to inform the design, delivery and content. This can be easier said than done but if tutors understand the principles of assessment for learning then they can find creative ways to embed them into the learning experience.”