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Reflecting on my own approaches to assessment

Home Forums Timely, Effective Assessment and Feedback (Week 6) Reading and reflection (Activity 6.1) Reflecting on my own approaches to assessment

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    [This is a repeat of an earlier blog post]
    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.


    It seems quite hard to state which approach is generically used – like the Kolb learning styles it seems many of us move between one approach and another as the activity requires. I could not say with certainty where I’d be most based (though probably constructivist) but indeed use all methods when appropriate.


    Would  this end up being confusing for a learner, or helpful, do you think?



    I agree that its difficult to say which approach  is  used most because the approaches used tend to reflect the intended learning outcomes rather than my personal preferences, so the mix will change depending on the curriculum and the student cohort.  That feels right to me, as the whole thing is about learners and learning rather than me as a teacher.  Asking whether using all these different approaches confuses students is a very good question.  Even though I talk to them explicitly about knowledge construction and the social dimension to this they seem to find any deviation from standard lectures and essay writing a bit mysterious.  They have referred to their experiences on my module as “learning by stealth” which they explain as meaning they feel they learn a lot but can’t easily pinpoint when or how it happens because there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of teaching going on in the module. I guess you could say that is confusing in terms of their conscious understanding of how they have been learning but at the same time helpful because they have nevertheless acquired a lot of tacit knowledge about learning as well as explicit knowledge related to the course.


    This is an interesting example Stephen, and I agree with both you and Sancha that there is a place for different theoretical approaches within the same learning context.

    An example that comes to mind for me is from a colleague who teaches journalism. He makes use of a range of technologies in his teaching and has developed an effective way of using wikis as part of the postgraduate programme.  In media ethics for example, he’ll seed a wiki with a description of a controversial situation (usually taken from a real news item) and invite the students to add their views, backed up by relevant links, photos and other resources. The students are graded individually on their contributions, based on a set of criteria which they agree to beforehand. Like Stephen’s example, this reflects both situative and social constructivist  approaches. It also highlights the importance of what Gilly Salmon calls a ‘spark’ to engage students and encourage participation.

    Assessing these types of approaches is challenging though. In my own experience, I’ve found that involving the students in agreeing the assessment criteria can help with the level of engagement and the quality of contributions. This is also something which David Nicol recommends too, backed up by findings from the REAP project



    There’s a lot of food for thought in the readings.  I use a variety of assessment approaches and find that many students are interested in the summative aspects of the assessment only, even though detailed  feedback is offered face to face.

    The point that video  is preferable to written feedback is interesting and points to a need for skill development in this area.


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