Worthwhile changes can be small
Significant effects can be achieved through modest revisions of existing assessment tasks that do not add to staff or student workload. eg. making a task more authentic in form, including discussions of what constitutes good work in an assignment, worked examples, etc.
Changes to assessment should not be designed to increase staff workload
While there may need to be an initial investment of time to understand new practices and ways of thinking about assessment, the implementation of these with students should certainly not increase staff workload. It should aim to make the work of staff in assessment become more meaningful and useful to student learning. It should also decrease time in repetitive tasks that add little value to learning, eg. in repetitive marking and in giving detailed comments on work at times when students have little use for them.
What can be done with large groups?
A great deal, as long as the groups are not deliberately large in order to reduce teaching resources to them. Even within this constraint, much can be done, but closer attention to detail and process is needed. It is important to treat large groups as collections of smaller entities in which tasks are undertaken, even if specific tutors are not designated to these.
Where is staff time best invested?
The best use of staff time is in:
- helping students calibrate their own judgements by focusing on differences between students’ perceptions of the quality of aspects of their work and the work itself
- providing detailed comments only when the assessment activity is timed so that students can use comments in their next piece of work and when staff can observe whether their comments have been effectively used.
- giving detailed comments when students cannot utilise these in subsequent work. This typically arises at the end of a semester or course, or a study sequence that will not be revisited. Such terminal tasks may be useful in certifying achievement, but they are not useful in guiding future learning.
- repetitious marking in which standard comments are repeated on many students’ work. Use of item banks of comments, group comments, assignment attachment sheets and the redesign of assessment tasks can address this.
Engaging with colleagues
Some colleagues and academic managers have a very unsophisticated view of assessment that focusses on generating and justifying marks. In engaging with them it is important to keep in mind that marking schemes are a second order consideration. Unless the assessment activities are having a good influence on student learning, they should be changed before giving any consideration to marking. Having a good marking process is worthless if what is being graded does not focus students on what is most important.