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  1. 1. Assessment Types Module Design & Enhancement Author: Feargal Murphy Email: Date: March 2009
  2. 2. Assessment One of the most important drivers of student learning is how that learning is assessed and it has been shown that students’ attitudes towards their studies are strongly affected by the nature and timing of assessment1 In module descriptors, one of the most important sections for students and coordinators alike is the description of how the expected learning outcomes are going to be measured through assessment. Assessments not only measure achievement of learning outcomes but they also classify or grade student achievement. Well-timed and well-designed assessment can have a powerful impact on how students approach their learning. Early assessment, particularly when it provides students with timely feedback, can encourage them to get down to some serious work, give them an idea of how they are progressing and what indicate they still need to do. Importantly it also gives lecturers an indication of how effective their teaching approaches are in terms of student progress. Effective feedback on work submitted is crucial in helping students learn by pinpointing where they may be going wrong and what they need to do to improve. Listed below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of various assessment techniques. All assessment techniques have disadvantages, and there is no single assessment technique that results in a perfect assessment. Finding the right assessment method depends on what you are really trying to assess in terms of skills or knowledge or understanding. The advantages and disadvantages listed below are presented to help you decide what kinds of assessments could be best suited to measuring the learning outcomes that you have set out for your module. A perceived disadvantage in an assessment strategy might not apply to your particular module because of the way that module is organized. The tables below are merely offered as a guideline in helping you determine the most effective strategy to allow students demonstrate how well they are learning. The information below is dealt with more fully in: Race, P. S. Brown and B. Smith. 2005. 500 Tips on Assessment. Routledge. 1 Rust, C. (2002) ‘The Impact of Assessment on Student Learning ’ Active Learning in Higher Education, Vol. 3, No. 2, 145-158 (through UCD Connect)
  3. 3. Assessment types: Exams • Traditional time constrained unseen exams Advantages Disadvantages relatively economical equality of opportunity less chance of plagiarism familiarity to students and staff fixed date forces students to learn often just measures exam technique tests memory sometimes more than understanding no feedback to students as the module is over by exam time can encourage surface learning not a complete picture of a student's performance • Open book exams Advantages Disadvantages less stress on memories slower writers not penalized measures what students can do with resources not just what the can remember not everyone might have access to the book(s) hard to run in teaching rooms as more desk space is required students not familiar with the system
  4. 4. • Open notes exams Advantages Disadvantages help encourage good note taking not a test of memory or technique students need to get used to the system bad note taking penalized can discourage use of memory needs larger desk space • MCQs etc (structured exams) Advantages Disadvantages can be very reliable excellent validity as test greater syllabus coverage can show how fast students think can be carried out quickly requires less effort all round can be used to test interpretation and decision skills as well as more basic skills students may be guessing takes skill to design good questions - especially questions to test high level skills needs careful planning to ensure the answer choices are clear risk of hacking risk of impersonators, not always available to students with certain disabilities • Vivas/ Oral exams
  5. 5. Advantages Disadvantages high degree of authenticity good for isolating particular areas or skills good practical experience towards later interview situations not all candidates perform well in vivas the use of the same questions may lead to later candidates being prepared for the questions questions can get tougher as the day goes on can only deal with a narrow range of skills exams are not anonymous Essays Advantages Disadvantages familiarity for many students and examiners allow for individual expression can show depth of learning test written communication well examine students ability to form coherent arguments can show breadth of student knowledge and understanding some students may not be able to show their abilities in the essay format due to not having been well trained in essay writing very time consuming to mark objectively 'halo effect': the level of the essay just marked can change expectations of the essay about to be marked essays are time consuming to write and so cannot test all of the syllabus students can be rewarded for simply regurgitating 'all they know' on a topic grading can vary from marker to marker so grades can be subjective Plagiarism can be difficult to detect
  6. 6. Reviews and annotated bibliographies Advantages Disadvantages good test of students' abilities can stimulate thinking in students as they review and stimulate group work and discussion useful later for students when revising help train for later research activities develop critical skills can expose students to a wide range of material the material for review may not be available to the student the range of material may vary in relevance and degree of difficulty Reports Advantages Disadvantages develop a key transferable skill reports can involve a wide range of skills that are otherwise hard to directly assess can be very time consuming for students using the same format and structure for a range of reports may decrease their effectiveness Portfolios Advantages Disadvantages
  7. 7. can contain evidence of a wide range of skills and attributes Can be very effective in combination with a quick viva exam Portfolios can demonstrate progress in learning Portfolios can reflect students' attitudes and individual strengths looking through portfolios can be time consuming hard to mark objectively authenticity of evidence can sometimes be questioned Presentations Advantages Disadvantages no doubt re authenticity of presenter students take presentations seriously can be used for individual or group work questions and answer sessions as follow ups can help develop important skills students learn from their own and everyone else's presentations can be time consuming (especially in a large group) unfamiliarity of our students with giving presentations appeals regarding grading of presentations can be hard to deal with presentations cannot be anonymous students with some disabilities may find presentations difficult Student Projects Advantages Disadvantages very good for students in their final UG year aiming towards a research postgrad programme they take a lot of time to assess as well as to supervise they do not all involve the same degree
  8. 8. they help students link theories, as well as linking theory and practice they can identify the best students of difficulty as some projects may be more complex than others in the same class there isn't time for a second chance. Posters Advantages Disadvantages they add visual dimension to assessment tools which may benefit students not good at traditional assessments they allow for peer to peer interaction students can learn from each other's posters they develop a wide range of key transferable skills there is a possibility of subjectivity in grading Theses Advantages Disadvantages individual work, allowing a student to demonstrate their understanding double marking generally used which guarantees quality assessment takes a long time subjectivity may creep in issues of structure and style may over- shadow assessment of the work
  9. 9. • Student Self Assessment Students sometimes waste time while doing assessments trying to figure out what the thought processes of the grader might be. They attempt to deliver what they think the grader wants to hear or read rather than developing their own skills and understanding in completing the assessment. Although the students should be developing critical and analytical skills, they do not apply them to their own work as they feel that their evaluation of their work will be different to the grader, and the grader’s evaluation is shrouded in mystery. Involving students in the assessment process eliminates the mystery and empowers the students to get on with actually learning rather than worrying about how their assessment should look. Having students involved in the assessment process can also help cut down on the time lecturers and students have to spend dealing with assessment. Peer assessment can also help students learn better from other student’s successes, and weaknesses. A lot of the assessments styles listed above are amenable to peer or self assessment: Presentations, Reports, Essays and Essay Plans, Annotated Bibliographies, Posters, Portfolios can all be assessed by the students. Using student self and peer assessment at first seems daunting, but it can be introduced a little at a time so that you can see its value without feeling that you have lost control of the assessment. It could first be introduced in a non-binding way, where students submitting work are asked to give it a grade as part of the submission process. This can reveal important problems in the student’s understanding that need to be addressed but can also identify students who are doing better than they realise! A student who thinks that their essay is worth an A, for instance, but whose essay you think is worth at most a C, may well be underperforming as a result of not realizing what it is they need to do as learners. A few questions can quickly identify what the student is not grasping and the problem can be remedied for later work, leading to improved grades, showing the student the reward possible for putting increased effort into their assessments. This non-binding approach also helps get students used to the idea of self-assessment. As you develop a self or peer assessment strategy, you might consider averaging the self/peer assessment grade with the grade you have assigned to produce a final grade for the piece of work, with negotiations possible where the grades vary a lot. Self and peer assessment can be useful in work where the criteria for marks are clear and simple, so it helps if you are clear on what your own criteria are for an assessment and you can let the students ask questions about the criteria before assessment takes place. The grading and assessing thus become integral parts of the learning process rather than standing apart form it. Students can also be encouraged to respond to some clear questions about their work as they submit it. Simply asking them what they thought was good about their work, what was most difficult about the assignment, or what they would do differently, can help the student reflect on their own work and thus assess it objectively. Where a student’s
  10. 10. perceptions vary widely for the grader’s, then a dialogue can identify and eliminate the misconceptions of the student, again improving the ability to learn. Students sometimes feel that their grade didn’t reflect the effort they put into, say, an essay. A grader cannot determine how much time and energy was put into completing an assignment, but the student doing the work can. If students are asked to grade the effort they put into a piece of work, then this can be compared with the grade assigned to the work by the lecturer, and where the effort grade is higher than the awarded grade, students can be encouraged to reflect on the way that the time they put in to the essay was wasted on some unimportant part of the essay or did not lead to a coherent and well structured finished piece. In this way, students can begin to see where they have gone wrong and begin to develop new learning strategies in order to produce better work. The use of Portfolios often needs a degree of self assessment, as students reflect on their progress. This assessment doesn’t lead to grades being awarded by the student but marks can be awarded for the insight and depth of the student’s self-critical evaluation, thus encouraging a higher degree of awareness in the student of the strengths and weaknesses of their own learning strategies. Introducing an element of self or peer assessment into a module is a challenging and complex task which demands a lot of thought on the part of the coordinators but it can have huge educational pay-offs. It is worthwhile considering how it may become part of the assessments in your modules, and by introducing it gradually you will be able to become comfortable with using it as part of your overall set of assessment strategies.