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Assessment & Feedback Principles

Assessment & Feedback Principles

This statement of principles and purpose provides a framework for assessment and feedback practice in all University of Wollongong degrees at both subject and course level (across all campuses, delivered in any mode). It is based on international, research-based, best-practice models and aligns with the requirements of the Higher Education Standards Framework. It should be read in association with Teaching and Assessment Policy Suite.

Vision

Assessment is critical to the learning and teaching cycle. It involves processes and tasks that, in dialogue with teaching staff and peers, are fundamental to enabling students to develop and demonstrate their learning, to build their capacity to become confident, capable, self-regulating, life- long learners.

Purpose

Assessment tasks and processes fulfil three key roles in student learning:

  • facilitate student capacity to meet learning outcomes (formative);
  • develop student ability to become confident self-evaluators (sustainable assessment literacy);
  • provide evidence of achievement of learning outcomes (summative). 

In complex assessment tasks these roles may overlap.

Good assessment design is a whole of course task that requires:.

  • planning and systematic development by course teams;
  • explicit alignment with course and subject learning outcomes; and
  • focus on scaffolding and integrating learning, especially at key points throughout the course.

Alignment

These are the learning outcomes we want, we pursue them through various teaching and learning practices and then we assess them. Alignment is simply have we got these three things so they match each other. Do our activities match what we desire students can achieve and are we judging them on the basis of what we say we want? (David Boud, 2015)

Whole of degree curriculum-design

'Whole-of-degree' curriculum-design approach for assuring learning focuses around degree learning outcomes. It guides course teams to develop appropriate outcomes that meet all the internal and external body requirements, and to use these outcomes to drive design. It encourages course teams to embed degree learning outcomes directly into subjects1 (units of study) to introduce, develop and then assure, a technique that results in assessments aligning directly to degree learning outcomes (as required by legislation – see Higher Education Standards Framework) and to provide consistency to students and academics in relation to the overall aims of the degree.

Why is this important?

Over a period of time it is common for subjects to be added or dropped to and from courses depending on the expertise of the academics. Course or Major Learning Outcomes try to encompass all the different subjects and it becomes more and more difficult to ensure that students are attaining at least the threshold learning outcomes required of graduates from the course. The whole of course alignment is a curriculum transformation process that addresses this problem. The aim of the whole of course alignment is to ensure that assessments focus on learning outcomes. There should be explicit learning outcomes that students are supposed to achieve and then assessment should demonstrate that students have achieved those learning outcomes.

What you will need?

  1. Degree structure
  2. Course Learning Outcomes
  3. AQF mapping tool
  4. UOW Curriculum Transformation mapping tool
  5. External accreditation standards
  6. OLT Threshold Learning Standards for your discipline
  7. Subject Learning Outcomes
  8. Map of skills learnt over the entire course

What is the process? 

  1. If the process is part of a course review then it is worth looking carefully at the structure of the degree and the rationale for all subjects in the degree. Which subjects are core and which are not?
  2. It is essential that all teaching staff get involved in the developing or revising of Course Learning Outcomes. Hold a planning day with all teaching staff and, if applicable, technical officers. Brainstorm the key concepts and skills that a student from a particular major should possess when they graduate. What does an employer need from graduates of this course? Ask participants to contribute one or two words which would describe a course learning outcome.
  3. Group these suggestions for likeness. For example, in the Sciences there may be a number of suggested course learning outcomes that essentially mean “an ability to communicate in a scientific manner”. In the case of the Bachelor of Science at UOW they developed the generic Course Learning Outcomes which change according to the major. However, it doesn’t matter what the discipline is they still have to demonstrate the skills as they move through degree. This in turn dictated the subject learning outcomes which were built around the Course Learning Outcomes.
  4. Once the CLOs are in place it is essential to begin with the First Year Experience (FYE). How do students know how to do an assessment? What sort of feedback to 1st year students get? Make sure that all the skills a graduate needs are mapped and that students are introduced to these skills in first year. There should not be any surprises when they get to 3rd year.
  5. Track when the assessments are due. Make sure students are not getting 80% of marks in the last 3 weeks of term. Get students started early in the session with assessments so they know they are on track.

UOW has developed a tool to assist course teams to achieve a whole of course approach to subject design, assessment tasks and learning activities based on the OLT Curriculum Design Workbench Tool.

Resources

Below is a list of resources that may help you to ensure your teaching team is working towards a whole of course design.

 

 Endorsed by UEC March 2014 

Course assessment design will have an appropriate balance of summative and formative assessment tasks:

  • Formative assessment and learning tasks that engage students in productive opportunities to apply knowledge and skills and gain feedback in a timely, constructive manner in order to support students’ continuous development.
  • Assessment tasks early in a degree program will introduce students to important assessment skills and literacies.
  • Summative tasks: assessment of learning for the purposes of assuring progress at key points in the course or for the purpose of warranting/confirming that learning outcomes have been met will be kept to the minimum necessary for that purpose
  • Summative tasks should mirror, complement or build on formative tasks to ensure student learning.

Balance

What we are hoping is that formatively they are doing something early on that they learn from. That they produce different kind of work, and that we can then see that different kind of work. We need a task that picks up, in some respects, from an earlier task. It might be different content matter or it might be different issues but, there is some element which we think is most important for students to be grasping and we can detect, in subsequent assessment activities, whether they have got it or not.

In considering the notion of balance it is worth ensuring that formative assessments occur early in the subject and summative assessments very late in the subject. In an interview at the University of Wollongong in 2015, Professor David Boud explained why assessments should be designed to test what students can do with the subject content and how they can use subject content to solve problems. Therefore testing students on whether they have acquired knowledge content is not enough and having discrete assessment tasks that have no relation to one another inhibits our ability to judge whether or not students have attained the subject and course learning outcomes when they complete the course.

Sustainable assessment (Boud & Soler, 2015) helps students to be able to judge whether their work is any good or not. Early career graduates need to be able to self-assess and judge the quality of their work. The process of team calibration can assist because in the process of calibrating the team you must share exemplars of work and this equips both students and teachers to appreciate the purpose and process of assessment and to engage deeply with assessment standards. Effective assessment practice, in which there is consistency and clarity of standards, requires a high level of expertise and understanding (literacy) in teachers and students (Rust et al., 2012). Assessment Literacy and engaging students as “interactive partners in a learning community” (O’Donovan et al., 2008 p.209) ensure that students can build a framework for continued future learning and transition out of university. Consensus moderation (Sadler, 2012) is a way of ensuring that staff develop clarity of standards when it comes to marking of assessments. The following example demonstrates how students can be involved in consensus moderation and engaging with assessment standards.

What you will need?

  1. Your subject outline
  2. All assessment item tasks and descriptions for the subject
  3. Subject learning and Course learning outcomes
  4. A framework for a holistic rubric that students and teacher will populate each week as theoretical concepts or skills are discussed in class.
  5. Weekly examples of student work which are judged in class by students and teacher against the growing criteria in the rubric

How is it done? 

  1. Each week students should bring in examples of work which are then critiqued by the teacher and students against the criteria being concurrently developed. This will also assist with the development of the criteria.
  2. The lecturer gives support to the class through modelling or directing students, but slowly withdraws this level of support and involvement over time (Falchikov, 2007).
  3. Discussions in class about the process of judging peers’ work and the ethics of being on a review panel. It is very important that students mark against the criteria.
  4. After 6 weeks of training in which students have been developing assessment criteria and judging peers’ work against the criteria, there is a peer assessment task. Students are put into panels and each panel is required to mark another student’s work against the criteria provide justification as to why that person received the mark. The lecturer also marks as a moderator. Students in the panels are encouraged to engage in rigorous debates about the mark but in the end come to a consensus and agree on a mark.

Resources

Below is a list of resources that can help your team design assessments that are balanced and help develop assessment literacy in students.

 

 Endorsed by UEC March 2014 

 

Assessment will involve an engaged process that begins with clearly articulated task guidelines and criteria but should extend to active discussion that facilitates students taking ownership of criteria and standards for their assessment. Post-task feedback continues this dialogue on the page or screen but should be extended through discussion, opportunities for peer assessment and sharing and individual consultations (where needed or requested). Tasks and feedback loops must be timed to ensure sufficient opportunities are provided to put the feedback into practice.

Supportive, constructive and timely feedback, which is clearly linked to the assessment criteria, is an essential component of the learning process. It enables students to build on their positive achievements and have a clear sense of what they need to do to improve their performance when undertaking subsequent assessment tasks. Feedback is a two-way process, an on-going dialogue between students and teachers. In order for feedback to work for students, they need to engage with it. This requires the designing of assessments tasks in a way that ensures students receive feedback in sufficient time to enable them to improve their performance in areas of knowledge or skill development before attempting further, similar assessment tasks.

Student engagement with feedback is promoted by:

  1. raising awareness of feedback by explaining its purpose, benefit and how to use it;
  2. demonstrating its worth by providing consistently high quality feedback;
  3. providing feedback in an accessible, flexible manner;
  4. prioritising it as a tool for learning long term–sustainable assessment
  5. facilitating reflection on feedback;
  6. consulting with students and engaging with them;
  7. providing iterative feedback loops and articulating students’ responsibility to engage with that feedback

Why is this important?

Student engagement with feedback is a key to success. In order to engage with feedback, students need to recognise what it is, why it is helpful and how to make use of it. Teachers need to provide opportunities for students to reflect on and discuss their feedback as part of an on-going dialogue about learning, and appropriate signposting to academic support.

Feedback should help students to improve their future performance as well as provide comment on work already done. Feedback should affirm what is known and offer encouragement. Feedback methods may include: written, face-to-face, (both individual and collectively), peer review, online, in audio files or email. Opportunities for students to reflect on their feedback more holistically should be provided elsewhere, for example within an online blog, discussion board, journal notes or throughout their course of study within an e-portfolio.

Feedback is for learning and should:

  1. primarily help the student to improve their future academic performance (be formative);
  2. affirm ability and offer encouragement;
  3. build students’ confidence;
  4. be provided in all subjects during the teaching period through a variety of methods appropriate to discipline and class size;
  5. embrace peer- and self-assessment as valuable learning tools;
  6. provide an opportunity for reflection on subject feedback via their teachers;
  7. use appropriate technology to achieve these aims.

How do I achieve this?

Subject Outlines should inform students, at the beginning of session, about the types of feedback they will receive and the dates when it will be available. Students must be provided with appropriate and useful feedback on performance in all summative assessment tasks with the exception of a final examination. Students must also receive feedback on at least one formative assessment, which may or may not be graded within the first four (4) weeks of the session. There are a number of examples available on small formative task suitable for this purpose. Students now should receive feedback on at least one summative assessment task prior to the deadline for students to withdraw from a subject without academic penalty (week 9 in a standard session).

Feedback on assessment tasks, with the exception of a final examination, must be marked and made available to students within 21 days of the submission date unless otherwise specified in the Subject Outline. Although it is good practice to make this available earlier. Varying the mode of feedback can help students to stay engaged e.g peer and self assessment. Both staff and students should become familiar with the range of on-line tools available (e.g TurnItIn) at UOW which, are useful for providing formative feedback that can lead to improved future performance.

Students should be encouraged to look at their performance across all modules in a holistic manner to see where they're going and make connections between strengths and weaknesses across each subject. The Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities has a good example of this in a core first year subject LHA101. Towards the end of the subject students are required to reflect on feedback they have received from all their 1st year subjects.

Feedback is timely:

  1. regular opportunities for feedback should be integrated into the subject and course curriculum;
  2. if feedback delivery is delayed, students should be told why and given a new due date;
  3. Where more than one piece of work is assessed, the first piece should always be returned in time for it to impact on the second.

What is the process?

The way assessment is designed will determine whether or not there are regular opportunities for feedback. This is where Feedback Loops are invaluable if there are two pieces of assessed coursework in a subject that take a similar form (e.g. assessed essays, or submitted lab reports). A feedback loop means that feedback from the first piece should be made available prior to the submission date for the subsequent pieces of work. The policy on turnaround of feedback on summative assessed work remains, however, if a large summative assessment is divided into a number of smaller formative and summative assessments (e.g. mini tasks, peer-assessed work) as it ensures students are engaging with feedback in order to improve the next phase of the assignment. There are added benefits to designing large assessments in this way. For example, the marking workload gets moved from 'the traditional marking period' at the end of session and is instead spread across the session. Additionally, peer marking permits the students to do some or all of the formative assessment marking. This in turn also helps to reduce assessment 'bunching' which would benefit students and gives fewer incentives to cheat when high-stakes single assessment items are replaced by smaller scaffolded assessment tasks (Bretag, 2015).

 

Resources

Below is a list of resources that can help your team design assessments that are balanced and assist to develop assessment literacy in students.

 

 Endorsed by UEC March 2014 

 

  • Authenticity – focusing on intellectually challenging ‘real-world’ practices through enquiry-based processes.
  • Validity – carefully and explicitly assessing whether the intended learning outcomes are being addressed.
  • Equity – tasks should be designed having regard for the diversity of students' backgrounds, experiences and learning styles.
  • Relevance – tasks with a sense of purpose that meet students' interests, allowing for individual choice of task should be considered.
  • Academic Integrity Policy – tasks should introduce and engage students in ethical research and communication practices.
  • Transparency – tasks should be clearly articulated and performance standards made explicit through a marking rubric or other instrument made available when the assignment is set.
  • Appropriate effort – tasks need to be intellectually challenging and enable students’ learning without placing undue burdens on either staff or student workloads.

 Endorsed by UEC March 2014

  • Consistent: referenced to agreed assessment rubrics
  • Moderated and calibrated: grading decisions are consistent between markers.
  • Reviewed: to ensure continuous, incremental improvement of assessment tasks through listening to student feedback.

Engaged, aligned, resourceful, moderated and relevant assessment design ensures the integrity of course delivery and student learning. It is critical to student engagement and course quality assurance and is therefore a central part of academic practice for all educators. UOW recognises the centrality of assessment and feedback processes by rewarding and resourcing good practice and innovation through continuing professional development and the academic performance framework.

What is the relevant policy?

The Code of Practice - Teaching and Assessment, currently under review, and proposed to be replaced by a new suite of policies including the Assessment and Feedback Policy.

Why is this important?

To ensure there is alignment with external standards such as AQF and HESF

Under the revised Higher Education Standards Framework (HESF), the University has the following obligations in relation to the quality assurance of its courses, assessment methods and grading:

1.4.3 Methods of assessment are consistent with the learning outcomes being assessed, are capable of confirming that all specified learning outcomes are achieved and that grades awarded reflect the level of student attainment. 

5.3.3 Comprehensive reviews of courses of study are informed and supported by regular interim monitoring, of the quality of teaching and supervision of research students, student progress and the overall delivery of units within each course of study. 

5.3.4 Review and improvement activities include regular external referencing of the success of student cohorts against comparable courses of study, including:

  1. analyses of progression rates, attrition rates, completion times and rates and, where applicable, comparing different locations of delivery, and
  2. the assessment methods and grading of students’ achievement of learning outcomes for selected units of study within courses of study.

How does this work at UOW?

Through the Assessment Quality Cycle which articulates requirements and minimum standards around collaborative and collegial design, delivery, quality assurance and quality enhancement of assessment practice at the University.

The nomenclature of Assessment Quality Cycle is as a way of moving away from terminology such as "moderation" and "calibration" which can place undue emphasis on these activities that are just two components of a broader process. The terminology of the Assessment Quality Cycle is considered to better represent this broader process, recognise those activities that are already in place across the University, and focus on the cyclical quality improvement aspect.

UOW's Assessment Quality Cycle will:

  • confirm that assessment is being undertaken appropriately, consistently and fairly;
  • identify issues related to assessment, both individual and systemic, and enable resolution in a timely manner;
  • enhance the learning and teaching experience for both staff and students; and
  • make the best use of existing systems and processes while incorporating those available through technological enhancements to ensure effective use of staff and student time.

Internally: the Assessment Quality Cycle will operate to support assurance that these standards are met, in that it verifies alignment with Subject Learning Outcomes and Course Learning Outcomes and also verifies that allocated marks and grades reflect student performance.

Externally: the Assessment Quality Cycle will form part of regular interim monitoring, and external referencing of assessment standards and grading are critical components of the review and improvement requirements referred to above, confirming that learning outcomes, assessment methods and grading are appropriate and consistent with comparable courses of study across the sector. UOW was involved in a pilot project of external referencing of standards with three other Australian institutions – the E.R.O.S. Project.

 

Endorsed by UEC March 2014

 

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