Assessment Practices

I warn you now, this blog post does not contain much wider reading which I am sure would answer some of the questions I raise. However, I want this post to invoke debate by readers. So please comment and point readers and myself to sources of interest.

Recently, my external examiner and I had a difference of opinion with regards to assessment. This brought upon a period of reflection, thinking about differences between assessment styles and what assessments students actually learn from.

I currently teach on an Level 3 FE  IT course, a style of teaching I’m new to. My day-to-day role as a learning technologist means that prior to beginning my teaching post I was, and contiue to be, immersed in HE learning environments. When I started teaching IT, I was given a unit specification which listed the assessment criteria and prescribed assessment methods. Effectively, right from the start the ability to use professional judgement in teaching and assessment method choice was limited to a prescribed national standard.

Being an IT course, the majority of the assessment criteria consistes of things like “Modify text from the inserted data so that the document looks consistent.” Pretty clear what students should do if you know about this feature in Microsoft Word. This course is graded on Pass/Merit/Distinction and students have to be able to complete all 18 assessment criteria to pass each unit.

Coming from an HE background, I want my learners to concentrate not just on the ability to technically use features of Microsoft Word and Excel but to analyse why anyone might want to “Modify text from the inserted data so that the document looks consistent.” In addition, I want them to be able to accurately describe what this feature actually does in order to go beyond the surface and to achieve a deeper level of understanding. This is how I structured the assessment for my students. It would appear that the external examiner didn’t agree with my approach in this instance. Students should be tested on the ability to do the task. For example, a page border would be graded higher if it is of a different colour or style. The actual writing element of my set assignment was deemed unnecessary.

I struggle to understand how this assessment approach can assess anything other than recently acquired knowledge. How can ticking off a list of requirements give the students any extra higher level skills (analysis, reasoning, application of skills). As far as I am concerned, this suggested assessment method is more of a rubber stamping exercise. If that is all that matters, why can’t we give students the assessment at the start of the year and the students who are able to do the functional tasks can tick them off without even attending class.  I believe there is still so much more to learn that being able to replicate a simple process.

I would love to know what the academic community thinks of this topic. I’m not for a minute suggesting that basic assessment of skills is defunct. All types of assessment have their place and I will be using this assessment type in my teaching but blended with different assessment techniques, especially as I have to please the External. Is this one of the main differences between FE and HE? Are we finding HE turning towards this tick list style of assessment in a target driven climate?

And I have just realised that I haven’t even mentioned the use of Technology. A recent idea to try and suit both opinions of assessments would be to get students doing a screen cast which shows them doing the computer based task while giving a more contextual description. I am trying the approach with my students this semester.

Embedded below is an example I created (which if you’re interested would tick off the criteria mentioned earlier “Modify text from the inserted data so that the document looks consistent.”)

If you would be interested in using this type of technology to assess students, please get in touch and I can work with you by demonstrating it to your students and support you through the assessment process.


5 thoughts on “Assessment Practices

  1. Ben

    One of the issues is that at Level 3 many courses are designed not just around learning outcomes and assessment criteria but performance criteria and these often end up especially in qualifications like NVQ being tick boxes where it is the ability to do it that us seen as key not how well it is done.

    Another of my bug-bears personally is lack of use of style sheets whether Word or programmes like InDesign so to an end-user I would like students studying IT to have a wider appreciation of where the text might be used and personally would have thought converting a document from plain text into a booklet with different consistent styles would be appropriate.

    Cheers

    David

  2. It’s a good question Ben.

    Clearly there are a basic set of IT skills that students should learn [the tick box list of skills, if you like].

    However, as you point out, we have to ask about the higher level cognitive functions, such as understanding. From a national economic perspective we will only thrive if people do have understanding. Businesses keep crying out for graduates to have the appropriate skills for business, and so your question is very relevant Ben. Perhaps we should do both: give students the basic skills; and develop their understanding.

    One should also ask, “what about other cognitive skills?”, such as problem solving, intelligence and creative thinking 🙂

  3. Mr. Sams

    I can see where your frustration lies. I am of the opinion that if there is a nationally prescribed way of assessing this Level 3 course, then there is no harm in you sticking to it for formal assessments. However, if you want your students to benefit from the other cognitive bits as you see fit using your professional judgement, you can still find a way of making that happen without clashing with your external examiner. Could you not perhaps make a formative assessment for that or an in-class activity covering the area as part of your teaching session?

    The ability to analyse why anyone might want to “Modify text from the inserted data so that the document looks consistent.” is a very good skill and it can form a very good introduction to the topic and may get students engaged with the actual activity because they have the rationale in mind.

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