This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

Approaches to assessment

Just thinking about the four perspectives on assessment described in Effective Assessment in a Digital Age ( associative, constructivist, social constructivist and situative. The course Im teaching is an MA in Photographic History and I teach a module on digital humanities.  The module is built around a different historical collection of physical material each year that provides a vehicle for students to learn about handling primary resources, cataloguing, digitizing, describing, tagging, and finding resources, leading into database development and Web site design and testing.  The summative assessment comprises two parts at the end of the module: firstly in groups students bring together all the digital material they have assembled and use their Web design skills to create an online exhibition.  They present the exhibition as a design pitch to an audience and are marked on the effectiveness of their design as evidenced by their pitch plus the quality of their presentation. They each receive a group mark plus feedback comments from the audience and tutors.  The second part is an individual critical appraisal of their own group’s design, in which they have to specify and justify the assessment criteria they are going to apply, award the group project a mark based on their own criteria and explain why they have awarded that mark.  For this they receive an individual assessment score. Prior to all of this, as the module proceeds, there are weekly activities, some of which are individual, some in pairs and some group based.  These are not marked but how each one relates to the final summative assessment is clearly explained.  So the module is built around a triangle of (1) learning outcomes, (2) summative assessment to test learning outcomes at a high level of integration, and (3) formative activities that enable learners to acquire and rehearse the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the summative assessment.

Overall the module adopts a situative perspective.  The assessment task is real: students do actually build an online gallery and exhibition and it’s the kind of task they are likely to do as professionals in their future careers.  The module as a whole models the kinds of behaviours expected of professionals in terms of material handling, digital skills, background research, information design and presentation. Where it falls short is in lack of involvement of professional practitioners in the assessment process and connection with the practitioner community generally.  However some technology such as online conferencing, blogs or facebook may enable this.

In the early weeks of the module the approach is associative, focused on discrete skill sets such as cataloguing, file naming, tagging, scanning, image optimization, database design etc.  These are formatively assessed through activities that are started in class and finished ready for presentations to class the following week.

The archival resource at the heart of the module changes each year.  Students have to interrogate and research it in order to understand what it is and its historical significance.  This is an individual activity through which they develop skills discovering and restructuring information to construct their own knowledge, explicitly based on constructivist learning principles.

The closing weeks of the module cover the design task, in which learners work in teams to pool resources and synthesize their individual perspectives into a shared conception.  By this stage the groups are largely self-managing as would be expected of  a social constructivist approach.

Ex-OU, EX-BT Distance Learning. Currently Visiting Fellow Centre for Distance Education, University of London , Head of School of Media and Communication, De Montfort University, Leicester and Professor of Learning Technologies.

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