Friday, June 17, 2022

The Future of Assessment Feedback

 When universities are preparing a Learning and Teaching Strategy, it is important to make what is proposed, staff and prospective students know the details. But what should be in such a strategy? What has worked well during the COVID-19 pandemic, and should be kept?

For the last few years I have been helping teach ANU Techlauncher, which has no exams, progressive assessment, some peer feedback, authentic and oral  assessment, Work Integrated Learning (WIL): the lot. This is challenging for staff and students, but that is the point: it is a capstone exercise to ensure graduates are ready for the real world.

One aspect which has worked well is a reflective portfolio disguised as a job application, and could be applied generally as a program capstone across a university. The idea is that a student has to think about what career they want, and what they have learned which help with that, in a very useful way. This is more relevant that a student having to prepare a portfolio which might be useful some time in the future. 

Previously I had used small quizzes and assessed forum contributions to keep online students working. Also I used a “best of” assessment scheme for small assessment tasks, so students could have a couple of bad weeks, without penalty. This helps cut down on requests for special consideration, and extra marks, as students know one missing or bad result will not penalize them. 

However, staff designing, and doing, assessment need to be trained in how to. The average academic knows about exams and assignments. There is also resistance from academics to spreading assessment throughout the courses to keep students working. There is the reasonable fear this will increase staff and student workload, but it can reduce the workload, if well designed. Academics are not familiar with vocational style assessment which looks for competency, not a 100 point scale. When they realise they do not have to treat a small test like a major exam, they can relax a bit.

More low stakes assessment can be used. This could be applied for small tasks, while large assignments are used to identify high achievers, to give the benefits of the ungraded approach, but with grades. 

Obviously authentic assessment should be used: it is natural and easy to apply in vocational courses. However, the research staff may not be qualified in real-world skills, or how to teach them. Peer and self assessment are fine for low stakes tasks, but is problematic for high stakes ones.

Obviously assessment should be scaffolded. The whole course should be there to support the assessment. If something is not assessed it should not be in the course. High stakes exams should be abolished. Small tests are okay.

A little oral assessment is okay, as long as it is linked to the learning objectives. The approach used by innovation centers (such as Canberra's CBRIN) to teach giving compelling presentations could be adopted by universities, or this teaching handed off to associated centers. Orals can be high stress: ask me about the pile driver during my MEd presentation. ;-)

Hackerthons could be incorporated. These could be within a course, a program, university wide, or open. The hackerthon packages a group project into a few days, rather than weeks.

Assessment templates, tools, and marking tools would be of some use. However, this is not a substitute for training staff in assessment. Personalised automated feedback would be of some use. The Techlauncher students have access to the university's careers automated tools, and we will try to have them use these more next semester. Templates for e-portfolios would be useful. However, this also requires staff training. Also I suggest a GitLab type repository, and advanced group working tools, as used by Techlauncher

An ungraded university first year would be disastrous, unless academics who were also trained, qualified educators were to run it. Otherwise this would cause great stress for students, particularly those from diverse backgrounds. I suggest instead an approach using progressive assessment, where only the best grades count. That is something the students, and especially the staff, will be better able to cope with.

The overriding constraint on changing a university's assessment is the lack of academics trained and qualified in education. The major challenge is how to get competent staff without compromising a university's’s research focus.

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