What can different methods of assessment do for you and your students?

'In short we need a richer mix of high-quality assessment formats, and we also need to reduce the overall burden of assessment for ourselves and for our students. We need to measure less, but measure it better.'

Phil Race1

Perhaps you're fed up with the ways in which you currently assess your students ('If I have to mark another essay....') or maybe you'd like to find out if there are other options for assessing your students which are a bit more innovative but which can still assess your intended learning outcomes. The benefits of using a diverse range of assessment methods are numerous and include:

Assessing a broader range of skills

Using a range of assessment methods gives students more latitude to demonstrate their knowledge and skills across a range of contexts2. By adopting a wider repertoire of assessments you can also help support students who may for one reason or another be disadvantaged by the extensive use of particular assessment formats. A diversification of assessment methods, where appropriate and practical, can therefore effectively lead to a more inclusive approach to assessment design.

See the section on taking into account special educational needs and disability.

Motivating your students

You are also probably familiar with the fact that certain assessment methods motivate and enthuse students more than others. In particular, authentic methods of assessment, those which more closely resemble the ways in which skills and knowledge are used in the real world, can help to motivate students above and beyond more traditional methods of assessment, such as essays. That's not to say that essays are in any way a 'poor' or inappropriate form of assessment. However, there may be opportunities in which you could still support the same (or very similar) learning outcomes as an essay whilst better engaging your students with the assessment task, for example, requiring students to write a newspaper article, draft a grant application, produce the script for a radio broadcast etc. Download the A-Z of assessment methods (PDF 119KB) for more ideas.

Helping you to cope with large class sizes

Many of you already teach and assess large (and diverse) numbers of students and for others of you growing student numbers are firmly on the horizon. In these cases the use of certain assessment methods are overwhelmingly resource-intensive, such as laboratory reports and extended prose; consideration of alternative assessment approaches may therefore be a worthwhile investment of your time. For example, setting an assignment which requires students to write a 300 word abstract for a journal paper instead of a 3,000 word report is likely to meet very similar (and indeed if not even more challenging) learning outcomes whilst simultaneously reducing your marking load. Download the A-Z of assessment methods (PDF 119KB) for more ideas.

Deterring plagiarism

There is also the question of how different methods of assessment can help to reduce cases of plagiarism. It's known that the likelihood of plagiarism is increased when, for example, the same assessments are used year on year and when assessments are bunched towards the end of a course/module (having to complete multiple assignments within a short space of time may lead some students to resort to less salubrious methods of preparing their coursework). Using a broader range of assessment types, for example by making assessments more authentic and stimulating, can help to reduce cases of plagiarism3. A useful short guide to preventing plagiarism is available from Dr Graham Hendry of the University of Sydney.

References

  1. Race, P. (2009). UK Centre for Bioscience Briefing on Assessment. Leeds: HEA Centre for Bioscience.
  2. Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to Teach in Higher Education, 2nd edition. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
  3. Bloxham, S. & Boyd, P. (2007). Developing Effective Assessment in Higher Education - A Practical Guide. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.

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