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About assessment

At the heart of good learning and assessment design is the concept of constructive alignment. 1

“… ensuring that there are absolutely no inconsistencies between the curriculum we teach, the teaching methods we use, the learning environment we choose, and the assessment procedures we adopt … Thus, we need to start with carefully defined intended learning outcomes, we then need to choose learning and teaching activities that stand a good chance of allowing the students to achieve that learning, then we need to design assessment tasks which will genuinely test whether the outcomes have been reached.”

Mayes and de Freitas explain good pedagogical design. 2

This is not as simple as it may seem but is helped by keeping in mind what you are asking the learner to do. Goodyear et al. suggests the idea of a ‘cognitive walkthrough’ of your course from the view of the learner. 3

Ask yourself, is the current task relevant? Does what they are asked to do at each stage contribute to their achievement of the intended outcomes? Assessment tasks can be thought of as rungs on a ladder towards learning goals.

Types of assessment

Assessment within a course measures knowledge acquisition, performance and skills development to determine students’ progress towards the attainment of learning outcomes. Assessed tasks may include a variety of activities such as quizzes, tutorials, labs, journals, tutorials, case studies, group work, presentations, projects, tests and more. Ideally, academics use a mixed approach to suit the subject, course, students and teaching style.

A distinction is sometimes made between assessment FOR learning (formative) and assessment OF learning (summative).

  • Formative assessments are conducted at intermediate points throughout a course to give students feedback on their performance and to give instructors information on how students are learning.

“Specific, constructive feedback about learning, as it is unfolding, is one of the most powerful influences on student achievement. Positive feedback celebrates success and helps keep students motivated, whilst constructive feedback highlights important aspects to focus on. Feed-forward provides an outline of the next steps to be taken. Feedback/feed-forward includes all dialogue to support learning in both formal and informal situations.”

Te Kete Ipurangi

  • Summative assessments are conducted at the end of a unit or course for the purpose of assigning a grade.

Aiming to ask questions that test higher-order thinking can help to minimise academic dishonesty. As a general rule, asking students to think critically is a better measure of learning than providing MCQs as there is little to no element of guesswork.

Intended learning outcomes

It is important to align your redesigned assessment task with the intended learning outcomes (ILOs), and consider how it fits with other learning activities within your course.

More about alignment and progression in assessment design.

Inclusive design

Developing accessible content improves the learning experience, not only for those with special requirements but for everyone. The range of needs and challenges among learners is under-reported and often unrealised, even by the learners themselves. Therefore, it is important that our approach to inclusive design is pre-emptive and not merely reactive. Culturally sustaining pedagogy and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are two approaches to designing assessments that can support our diverse learners to thrive.

More about inclusive design approaches in assessment design.

Academic integrity

Academic integrity requires more than a one-time conversation. It is something that needs to be thought about when designing a course and assessment tasks and addressed with students throughout the semester, in courses at every level.

More about designing assessments with academic integrity in mind.

Related resources

Page updated 31/03/2023 (minor edit)

  1. Biggs, John. “What the Student Does: Teaching for Enhanced Learning.” Higher Education Research & Development, 18, no. 1 (1999): 57-75.
  2. Mayes, Terry, and Sarah De Freitas. Review of E-learning Theories, Frameworks and Models. (2004).
  3. Goodyear, Peter, Christopher Jones, Mireia Asensio, Vivien Hodgson, and Christine Steeples. Effective networked learning in higher education: notes and guidelines. Deliverable 9, Volume 3 of the Final Report to JCALT. Lancaster: University of Lancaster, 2001.
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