Assessment and Feedback

Part 1

Nichol and Macfarlane-Dick discuss feedback and assessment in a student-centered, self regulated context as they feel that this area is under-explored. They explain that feedback is still delivered in a transmission process and that we need to rethink this application of feedback so that students have a greater control of their learning and become self-regulated and so that the feedback is easier to ‘decode’ i.e. understand and apply. They present a new model for feedback, which includes severn principles for the facilitation of self-regulated assessment. I have found this very useful in considering my own feedback delivery, I especially identify with the idea of not all outcomes are visible and that the internal meeting of goals such as deeper understanding can be just as important as the measurable external meeting of goals, such as essays and presentations. I am also interested in the motivations for learning, as it is clear to me that many students are often motivated by goals not prioritised within the assessment criteria, for example; a student may want to make a specific piece of work in a specific style because they see that it will benefit their portfolio, but even if they produce a piece of work to a very high standard they may not receive high marks because they did not meet the brief or have not provided enough supporting material and research to back up their idea. This justification by the student of the purpose and intention of the work can offset any disappointment they might feel about not achieving the highest grade. I find this to be an acceptable scenario of behaviour as long as the student fully comprehends the mechanisms and purposes of the assessment criteria in place and makes the decision to sacrifice their grade for the pursuit of an outcome they deem to be more beneficial to them. I see the diagram presented by Nichol and Macfarlane-Dick a little like an ice-burg, with the tip of the iceberg visible as evidenced based outcomes and the major mass of the iceburg hidden beneath the waterline, inside the students mind. Now that I have a clearer idea of the steps to take to support self-regulated assessment I am keen to embed this more proactively into the structure of my sessions.

Next I read about the ESCAPE project from a JISC funded project called The Design Studio. I found it useful to have a basis on which to interrogate a set of dualities surrounding assessment, such as macro and micro, as well as the idea of hierarchies of priority within assessment, we should allow the students to decide for themselves what is a pertinent and important focus within a particular project to best extend their learning, while ensuring that they are aware of the other possible learning outcomes and have made a conscious and informed decision about the skills and knowledge they would like to improve. The main take-away from this for me was the positive benefit of involving the student voice in assessment so that students have input and control of their learning. The idea of reducing the reliance on an end product or summative assessment in favour of regular and consistent formative feedback was cited as a positive pattern of assessment by both students and staff. This removes the emphasis from grades and the anxiety and stigma attached to them to genuine continuous cognitive development. The good practice tips and tricks guide had a remarkable amount of similarities with the Nichol and Macfarlane-Dicks steps above. These tips and tricks included:

Good assessment: 

  • Engages students with assessment criteria (through peer-peer assessment) 
  • Supports personalised learning (with a focus on personal choice) 
  • Focuses on student development (feedback is not just a mark or a grade) 
  • Ensures feedback leads to improvement (linking feedback to future projects) 
  • Stimulates dialogue (asking students to think through descriptions of subjective experience) 
  • Considers staff and student effort (Distribute feedback and effort evenly and efficiently across the project duration) 

Russell (2010) The ESCAPE project.

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Part 3

Finally, I had a little look at the work on Self, Peer and Group Assessment by Phil Race. I resonate with the ideas surrounding self-assessment that it is often more valuable when intrinsically personal, such as a diary, log or blog. This is because this work is often very authentic, unedited and subjective, the honesty that these formats allow for can function to provide moments of insight and clarity.  There is also an interesting idea here about students being assessed on what was ‘meant’ to be achieved rather than the outcomes that actually manifested. To me this is often the difference between concept and skill, the ability to generate concept is often more prized than the skills required to achieve the intention, both qualities can be nurtured and developed and the identification of strengths and weaknesses in either area is integral to a students goal development and prioritising of their tasks. The writing emphasises the importance of including students in their own assessment, and gives insightful and valid reasons for this, such as the idea that self-assessment and peer-assessment happen naturally anyway and should be harnessed as a valid part of self improvement. Because teacher-led assessment is not sufficient alone, one perspective may be limited and biased, and because it will deepen students learning experiences and enhance their autonomy.

Race, P. (2009) A Briefing on Self, Peer and Group Assessment. LTSN Generic Centre

 

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My mantra upon concluding this research is that I will go forward in an open, transparent and communicative way to host conversations with students about their assessment, I will make it clear that tutor-led feedback is not the most important thing and that it is positive to be aware of the purposes of assessment and implement their free-will to generate work that is useful and important to them, for whatever reasons that may be. I will explain that they are making their work for themselves and not for the university, that the role of the university is to guide them through their creations and help them to find a path to improvement through facilitation and moderation.