11 May 2007 ............... Length about 1200 words (9,000 bytes).
(Document started on 6 May 2007.)
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Department of Psychology,
University of Glasgow.
(N.B. that in the UK, and here on these pages, "assessment" usually means
testing students' learning attainments, while "evaluation" usually refers to
measuring and otherwise judging how well a course has been designed and run by
staff. In the US, "assessment" usually refers to this latter.)
This set of pages is about principles for good "assessment" (primarily in HE),
where "good" mainly means good for students' learning.
However we define the scope of the area very broadly to include
- not only summative assessment for certificates, but also
- formative feedback to students on their completed work,
- individual advice for students during a task
they are engaged on (e.g. in labs, or for projects).
Taken together this still does not include every major part of course design:
it does not include curriculum design, nor primary expositions (such as
textbooks or lectures), nor in the main conventional seminars and tutorials.
There are several lines of argument independently linking these three things
within the scope of a single topic.
- Even if your only interest is in summative measures of completed
learning, you shouldn't use any test or measure without giving the students
practice at it. If you do, you will be measuring to a significant degree
either their ability to guess right what is wanted in a new format, or the
amount of practice of this format they had had in previous institutions or
courses: and not measuring the amount of knowledge they have of the content.
If you give them practice of this format (including feedback), then you have
to design and deliver formative feedback and summative testing as one combined
issue, thus linking (1) and (2).
- If you are aiming to maximise learning (usually taken as the job of
teachers) then you will probably accept the aim of "assessment for
learning". As Black & Wiliam and others have established, the most
effective single intervention to improve learning is to deliver formative
feedback. This is associated with the way learning is strongly connected with
doing: with performing tasks that exercise the new knowledge, preferably by
requiring its use in some other format than the one in which it was originally
presented. In many HE courses, students discover what they don't know (only)
as they try to carry out the task, and then seek answers to their questions.
Effective access to such answers is often a crucial determinant of students'
performance, as is recognised by the traditional ways of supplying this
service by tutorial supervision or "lab. demonstrators".
This links (2) and (3).
- There is an important argument that an aim of HE should be to equip
students for lifelong learning: that is, to learn independently in future,
rather than being dependent on frequent contact with teachers.
A major aspect of equipping them in this way is to introduce them to
self-assessment and peer assessment as useful sources of assistance (that do
not require teachers). Thus peer and self assessment and feedback are
educational objectives in themselves, and should be promoted directly for
their own sakes as well as for efficiencies and effectiveness. They arise
most naturally in (3) and (2); but this leads to the question of whether we
should consider them also for (1).
- Additionally, there are arguments due to Taras that the human cognitive
processes of making formative and summative judgements (comments and assigning
marks) are closely linked: if you do one, you will have done most of the work
for doing the other. For instance, in assessing an essay (or a computer
program) most of the work is in reading and understanding it, and producing a
mark as well as comments, or comments as well as a mark is a relatively small
additional bit of work. Consequently it is profoundly wasteful to divide
these functions in designing course provision: they should be designed
together. This links (1) and (2).
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