As academic staff at LSE continue to develop their assessment and feedback statements, today’s post offers a round-up of resources that may be of interest to those teaching and convening undergraduate mathematics courses. They cover a wide spectrum of thinking on assessment and a variety of practices that are distinguished by contrasts in:
- timing – from one-off summative exams through to continuous assessment policies;
- type – from written examinations through presentations to purely oral exams;
- implementation – from manual, paper based testing to computer assisted assessment;
- the nature of the task – from individual dissertations to group based project work;
- the nature of the assessors – from traditional exam markers through to peer to peer.
The resources are provided not to dictate how mathematics should be assessed, but rather to promote and inform discussion on the topic.
Mapping University Mathematics Assessment Practices Project (MU-MAP)
The MU-MAP Project (MU-MAP, 2011) undertook a broad survey of assessment practices in UK higher education institutions to support the ongoing discussions on the state and future of mathematics assessment in the UK.
Unsurprisingly, closed-book examinations were observed to dominate the assessment landscape, and there seems little evidence to suggest that such assessments are falling out of favour with either academics or students. However, a growing presence of alternative forms of assessment was also noted (primarily within statistics, and the less ‘pure’ and more ‘applied’ applications such as ‘The history of mathematics’ and ‘Business and finance mathematics’). Here, several motivating factors were identified, of which two key ones were:
- Growing numbers of students in quantitative courses were asking institutions to consider alternatives to traditional exams, with technology increasingly being seen as a possible solution to many of the logistical challenges those alternatives raised.
- The changing market demands for quantitative skills (particularly in the graduate employment market) were seen as contributing to the pressure to change and re-align assessment practices.
Concerns about reliability and validity tended to restrict or constrain radical changes in contemporary practices, with innovations typically seen in individual courses (though usually with the full support of departments).
The results of the survey, and the project’s final report, can be found online at the MU-MAP Project website. While the project, and its various funding opportunities, are now closed, the site remains as a valuable resource for educators in undergraduate mathematics. In particular, while there is much literature promoting and detailing alternative assessments both within the quantitative disciplines and outside of them, the project observed that there was a paucity of empirical research available to teachers to inform and help their choice of assessments. Thus, as well as an assessment literature library, the project has also produced a book, Mapping University Mathematics Assessment Practices (Iannone and Simpson, 2012), that contains 21 case studies describing particular forms of assessment practices and including specific examples of how they have been implemented and reviewed.
Supporting good practice in assessment in mathematics, statistics and operational research
The Higher Education Authority’s Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research (MSOR) Network has produced a variety of useful resources for both teachers and students. As part of an occasional series of briefings, it has released Supporting Good Practice in Assessment in Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research Briefings (Challis et al., 2004) which discusses assessment and what constitutes good practice in the MSOR disciplines. While there are a handful of case studies presented, and many additional examples of assessment practices, this document may be more theoretical than the MU-MAP resources listed above. However, it is supported by a wealth of references on assessment in higher education.
Assessment practices in US undergraduate mathematics courses
The final resource is the Mathematical Association of America’s Assessment Practices in Undergraduate Mathematics (Gold et al., 1999), which contains over 60 contributions on assessment practices in a wide variety of mathematics courses in the US. Rather than theoretical discussions on assessment, these articles cover particular practices that have been implemented by their contributors (sometimes just as they have begun to implement them!). Though somewhat older than the two resources listed above, it nonetheless offers some valuable insights on topics ranging from assessment of degree programmes, through various forms of group and individual assessment both inside and outside the classroom, to the assessment of teaching itself.
A companion volume, Supporting Assessment in Undergraduate Mathematics (Steen, 2006), contains 26 case studies of assessment activities, from the development of strategy to innovative practice, in mathematics departments across the US.
Challis N., Houston, K. and Stirling, D. (2004), Supporting Good Practice in Assessment in Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research, MSOR Network, University of Birmingham
Gold, B., Keith, S. and Marion, W.A. (1999), Assessment Practices in Undergraduate Mathematics, Washington DC: Mathematical Association of America
Iannone, P. and Simpson, A. (eds) (2012), Mapping University Mathematics Assessment Practices, Durham University and University of East Anglia
MU-MAP Project (2011), Mapping University Mathematics Assessment Practices, Durham University and University of East Anglia
Steen, L.A. (ed.) (2006), Supporting Assessment in Undergraduate Mathematics, Washington DC: Mathematical Association of America
With thanks to Mark Baltovic in LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre for contributing this post.