This time of year in tertiary teaching is about endings and beginnings. Endings in that I am wrapping up the assessment for the current terms and beginnings in that I am writing the course profiles (essentially a learning contract) for the upcoming term.
It is timely then to review my teaching practices and read some of the current literature in order to inform the learning journey that my students and I will undertake. This is by no means a work of art, just me attempting to exernalise, justify and organise my thoughts…
- “For most students, assessment defines the curriculum
- Alignment between the learning outcomes, what is taught and learnt, and the knowledge and skills assessed
- A variety of assessment methods is employed…
- Assessment tasks are balanced between formative and summative, with early, low weight assessments to provide students with feedback”
James, McInnis and Devlin (2002)
“… all assessment activities need to be examined from the point of view of what they contribute to promoting desired student learning in general and learning beyond the point of aasessment… Assessment needs to be demystified if students are to become confident enough to understand and use it in the world of practice. This is not simply about publishing criteria and weightings, but of students appreciating the connections between assessment activities and their learning” (Boud and Falchikov, 2005).
Gene Dayton, a colleague at CQU has developed a regular quiz assessment task, worth 30% of the overall mark. This provides students with a motivation to study regularly and feedback on their learning. I have used weekly discussion board activities, but have found these to be cumbersome to manage with large classes, time consuming to grade for the amount of marks they are worth and open to plagiarism. I had quizzes in addition to this, but I have received feedback from students about too much assessment, so am looking to reduce the total assessment load.
Yvonne Toft, another colleague from my department is also blogging on assessment at the moment. I like the idea of students submitting a self assessment on their strengths and weakness of the assessment piece, how they think it could be improved, the grade they think it deserves and what they would most like feedback on. I like it!
Looking through the course profiles from the Bachelor of Human Movement Degree, most other courses have four pieces of assessment. About half have exams, which have never had (and am not about to introduce), but there are some interesing assessment pieces. Most have quizzes, which accuotn for between 10 and 20% of the overall mark. Psych has a number of annotated bibliographies and also research projects. Ex phys require students to write up research papers to meet the submission requirements of a relevant journal article. Most subjects have group assessment of some description. Many also have presentations, which are difficult for the external students to complete without attending res school.
I like the idea of assessment happening during the process – maybe peers reviewing each other’s assessment and having to make comments on its effectiveness using track changes, or marking it according to the assessment criteria and then giving detailed feedback? This incorporates two ideas from Hounsell (2004).
Another concern is the numbers involved with assessment. How much for each piece? Should marks be allocated in accordance to the proportion of time taken to complete? Should students have to attempt all pieces? Should student have to submit all pieces?
Ward and Lee (1995) have 10 concepts they believe support effective web based instruction:
- Instructors as facilitators. I think I do this through my regular interaction on Blackboard. I put up a weekly announcement to update students on things.
- Use a variety of presentation styles. The courses I am teaching this term have really only been delivered through a traditional face to face lecture/tutorial for internal students and an electronic study guide (for hard copy or online reading) with online activities for external students. Last term was my first experience with video lectures and these were very popular. I am going to make some short videos and/or audio as an additional medium for external students.
- Multiple exercises. I have probably taken this too far. My coures tend to have a similar assessment format, regardless of the content: attendance (in class or online), quizzes, essay/report (x 2) and a presentation. I am looking at reducing this, but trying to maintain the variety.
- Hands on problems. The nature of the courses that I teach are hands on. Sport Management isn’t has hands on as I would like… at the moment. The major assignment with sport marketing is to complete a marketing anlaysis and report, which is really hands on.
- Learner control of pacing. I am of two minds about this one. When I haven’t stipulated regular deadlines in the past, I found this created the situation where students would cram all of their work, and usually produce low quality result. I found that terms where I “forced” students to work regularly tended to decrease attrition. I get positive feedback from most students about the encouragement of submitting regular assessment. The negative assessment has tended to be from lower performing students.
- Frequent testing. The weekly activities I have used in the past have provided external students with feedback on how they are going in terms of understanding the materials. They can also read each other’s postings, which assists in the learning process. The three quizzes again encouraged students to read the study materials. I have also been trying to put a low marks assessment early in the term to encourage students to get into things straight away and get some early feedback.
- Clear feedback. I regularly interact online to give feedback on the weekly activities. All assessment pieces get a general report with general feedback, as well as individual feedback. Gene mentions in his quizzes that students appreciate the opportunity to get immediate feedback.
- Consistent layout. I try to ensure that language used in the course profile, study guides, lectures and online course are consistent. I am also quite fussy about fonts and try to ensure this is consistent.
- Clear navigation. I can’t do much about this, but I can control some buttons in the LMS. I take out the sections I don’t use.
- Available help screens. This isn’t always an option, but I try to provide some assistance and recommend that students contact the helpdesk for technical issues. Vista and Office 2007 have been challenging this term!
I also want to ensure that the recommendations I made on group assessment in my last Grad Cert assessment are included:
Recommendation 1: develop a section in the Week 1 introductory material that discusses collaborative learning including its reason for being included and the positives/negatives.
Recommendation 2: develop “crash course” materials to allow students to quickly gain the fundamentals of communication, team dynamics, project planning and conflict management.
Recommendation 4: review current self and peer review processes so that:
– students receive some initial guidance on the self/peer review process (incorporated into the Week 1 introductory materials from Recommendation 1)
– the guidance should include students conducting assessment on groups, then peers and then self. The peer assessment received from others should be incorporated in the self assessment process
– students are given the opportunity to set the assessment criteria (or receive a thorough briefing on teacher-set criteria)
– informal, formative peer and self assessment is conducted prior to formal formative assessment occurring
– peer assessment is conducted as both a summative (to raise group issues) and a formative (to ensure individual contribution) process
– self assessment is conducted as a summative process, to allow for reflection on performance. Peer assessment from others should be made available to aide in the self reflection process.
– have a category based peer assessment process for formative assessment, so students can receive detailed feedback, and holistic based peer assessment for summative assessment, for reliability.
Recommendation 5: review assessment calculation processes so that:
– formative peer and self assessment are pre-requisites for further assessment
– if not confident with using peer assessment, have it be a pre-requisite, but not contribute to the final grade
– the group grade is based on individual performance, to encourage a truly cooperative learning environment
– check that grade allocation processes don’t cause students to compete with each other for grades.
I haven’t been as satisfied with the linkage between assessment and content in these two subjects. I will be working to ensure that there is a stronger relationship. Sports planning and devleopment is a very practical subject and I am really happy with its structure. The weekly topics give the content required to complete the assessment and the weekly activities serve as warm ups, or practice for the assessment itself. It all fits very neatly, but I am not sure if I can get this neatness with sport mangement and sport marketing.
Tying it all together
My experience with the design of assessment and training materials for VET is useful for tertiary teaching, but has its limitations. VET is primarily based on behaviourist models of teaching, where a particular demonstration of competence is required to “pass”. Tertiary learning is obviously at a higher level, but the currently popular design method of constructive alignment. I must admit to being largely underwhelmed by this theory – it is one of the fundamentals of VET: take the assessment criteria, work out how you will assess it, work out what the learners need to know to complete the assessment, work out what the learners know now and then design the training activities to fill the gap.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) tertiary education doesn’t have such a rigid structure. This is probably fortunately, because we are assessing a higher level of learning – as can be evidenced through the use of synthesis, analysis and evulation, rather than comprehension and application (had to throw Bloom’s taxonomy in there somewhere!). To try and tie it all together, I am going to attempt to use the ADDIE model: analyse, design, develop, implement and evaluate.
Watch this space…