As we continue to focus on the new academic year, Dr Ellis Saxey, Academic Developer from the Teaching and Learning Centre, considers mapping assessment practices.
With a shorter LSE Summer Term, the traditional end-of-year exam period is reduced. This is an excellent moment to reflect and explore: how are our assessments scheduled across programmes, and how do students experience them?
At least two LSE departments already map assessment across their programmes. This allows them to check for some of the classic problems of assessment timing. For instance, the Gender Institute discusses deadlines annually, and staggers them to more evenly distribute the workload. This avoids a ‘bunching’ of deadlines, which might overwhelm both students and markers. The Department of Psychological and Behavioural Sciences have mapped assessment deadlines for their MSc. The mapping reassures them that long-term projects (for example, preparation for the dissertation) are not being crowded out of student’s attention by shorter-term deadlines (for formative coursework).
Changing when, changing how
If you want to make a change to your assessment, why not consider both timing and format simultaneously?
A change in assessment timing can be useful. Shifting assessment from the traditional end-of-year period can prevent assessment fatigue for students and markers, and also give students a stronger sense of their progress earlier in the year.
A variety of assessment formats can help students learn. Students with different strengths can demonstrate their understanding (Gibbs and Simpson summarise studies that suggest exam-only assessment may result in lower student attainment). Students develop a greater range of capabilities (such as oral presentation, or working in groups) and are given credit for them. Barriers experienced by students with specific learning disabilities can potentially be reduced (see Hockings, 2010).
Why might you want to tackle both timing and format at once? Because a change of assessment approach can support a change of timing, increasing the impact and benefit of the change.
Here are three different ways that timing and format have been mutually beneficial at LSE.
Setting more than one summative assessment for a course allows different methods to be used, and some assessment can be completed earlier in the year.
The Department of Geography has several courses assessed by both exam and essay(s), the essay weighting being between 25-40%. This allows for some summative assessment before the main exam period, but for students to continue to deepen their understanding until the exam.
Continuous assessment can promote student engagement through the whole course, and again allows for some assessment to be completed before the end of the year.
Philosophy, International History and Management summatively assess class participation, and at least six departments (including Statistics, and Geography and Environment) summatively assess student presentations.
In International Relations, IR321 requires students to write weekly blog posts (for formative assessment) responding to the week’s themes. Management and Anthropology are summatively assessing student blogs.
Forms of assessment with more intrinsically flexible timing can be set at times when traditional exams aren’t possible.
The Gender Institute, Law, International Development and Anthropology use take-home papers, and dates for these can be set more easily than for conventional exams (Anthropology has a take-home paper in December).
The Teaching and Learning Centre helps academics revise their assessment formats. We can discuss how to ensure your assessment remains valid and reliable, while satisfying priorities for your specific course.
The Teaching and Learning Centre can also assist with mapping assessment across a course, programme, or whole department. Several tools from the sector are available (e.g. the NUS Assessment and feedback benchmarking tool, the TESTA process and the JISC-funded Viewpoints project) and TLC can help you locate, or devise, a process that supports your aims.
Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 1, 3-31. Accessed 6 Sept 2016 https://sydney.edu.au/education-portfolio/ei/assessmentresources/pdf/Gibbs%20and%20Simpson.pdf
Gordon, C., Hughes, J. and McKenna, C. (2015) Assessment Toolkit. Accessed 6 Sept 2016 http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/sites/default/files/governance/ltas22/ltas22-2_assessment_toolkit-2015_interactive.pdf
Hockings, C. (2010) Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education: a synthesis of research. EvidenceNet. Accessed 6 Sept 2016 https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/inclusive_teaching_and_learning_in_he_synthesis_200410_0.pdf