Higher Education Academy Seminar Series

Innovation in Assessment: the student learning experience


This is a report on an HEA-sponsored workshop and seminar that showcased innovation in assessment practice at University College London. Details of the presentations are available on this link. A brief summary of the sessions is given below.


Following introductions from Professor Anthony Smith, UCL Vice-Provost, Education, who emphasised the increasing importance of assessment and feedback to the student experience, and Dr Will Curtis from the HEA, who set out the current work of the HEA on academic practice, teacher excellence and institutional strategy, the day focussed on presentations on a variety of different assessment practices grouped into three broad themes.

Under Theme one, Innovative Assessment: a kaleidoscope, we learned about the use of the Moodle quiz tool for both formative and summative assessment designed to address the gap between secondary and tertiary education on a second-year Life Sciences course. Students had consistently found their numeracy skills needed refreshing to meet the required standard, and, through a combination of frequent formative MCQ assessments and their own student-produced animations on the application of calculations to particular experiments, their examination performance and confidence considerably improved. The students particularly appreciated the ability to access these resources at any time (allowing multiple attempts at randomized formative quizzes) and to receive feedback on concepts they did not quite understand without fear of embarrassment.

A second presentation discussed lecture flipping, for which a lecture is recorded in advance of the timetabled session and made available online to the students, who are required to watch the lecture beforehand. They are then asked to formulate and post onto Moodle three questions ahead of the class (supplying the specific time in the recorded lecture to which their question refers) as a formative assessment task. The lecturer identifies the 10 most popular questions and addresses them in the class, which brought increased interaction between the lecturer and students. As studies have demonstrated, formulating relevant questions promotes reflection and can be key to effective learning. If anything, lecture attendance increased as a result.

The final talk under this theme concerned a group activity centred on enriched scenario-based teaching in Health Management. Here, students were given the scenario of managing health in a fictitious region, taking into account all aspects from budgetary management to healthcare provision. Assessments associated with this scenario included oral and written assessments; some of the latter were group-based, but a reflective journal was also included.

Theme twoStudents at the centre of assessment. This session showcased the use of summative MCQ examinations delivered via the Moodle quiz on a postgraduate dentistry course. This provided a solution for various problems of time and resources associated with marking essay-based questions, and research has shown it to be reasonably popular with students. In time, it may be developed to include short-answer questions marked via Moodle. A second presentation reported on an assessment in Electrical Engineering for which students were given a group project (the whole class being subdivided into groups of 5-7) as a competition to work out how to find a telephone number which was being sent along a cable. This involved both formative and summative assessment (students were given feedback on the formative component and enabled to improve and resubmit their work) as well as a reflective portfolio, which included elements of peer assessment.

The third presentation, and my personal favourite, concerned an undergraduate research project in the History of Science and Technology. A student who had done this assessment expressed genuine enthusiasm for the range of assessments associated with this module. With 50% allocated for the project itself (the student identifies and researches the topic, thereby taking ownership of it), 25% on the research folder and 25% a final exam on methodology, there was a diversity of summative assessments, and for the formative activity the students were expected to comment on one another’s work. Projects are then passed on to future cohorts to encourage further work, and annotated bibliographies produced as part of the projects are available to support this inheritance mechanism. They are also published as an edited anthology, which necessitates the cultivating of students’ scholarly skills to an advanced level.

 Theme three – Innovative assessment in the humanities and social sciences. This session opened with discussion of a collaborative international Masters programme in Comparative Literature, whose students were asked to produce an academic hypertext essay, to contribute to an assessed discussion forum and to participate on a collaborative wiki. Although this last aspect did not prove successful, largely because students were relatively unfamiliar with wikis and were uncomfortable with the notion of re-editing each other’s work, they did enjoy the international collaboration through the forum and occasional video conferences which encouraged peer feedback.

The focus of the final presentation was a formative (and subsequently summative) assessment in which students were asked to critique four pieces of writing on Picasso’s Three Dancers, and post a 750-word summary of one of them to an online forum, leading to group discussion. The overarching aim of this activity is to introduce threshold concepts in Art History by encouraging the students to engage with different critical approaches and to reflect upon the differences between them. However, it was noted that there was not as much voluntary online participation as had been hoped.

A productive discussion closed each session and the debates arising from the day were enlivened by a Twitter feed and text wall.

If you would like to know more about any of these assessments then please contact Neal Sumner at the Learning Development Centre.

Neal Sumner &  Dr. Chris Wiley


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