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Transforming Assessment in Higher Education – if not now...?

26 May 2020 | Dr Samuel Elkington With the launch of Transforming Assessment: a guide to the Advance HE Framework, author Sam Elkington, Principal Lecturer for Learning and Teaching Excellence at Teesside University, discusses how it is timely to seek transformational change in higher education assessment.

Global Higher education is currently undergoing a period of significant challenge and transformation. It is now clear that these challenges will, in a comparatively short period of time, lead to significant changes in the ways in which the student learning experience is mediated, accessed, and assessed.

Managing change of any kind in higher education is challenging, being difficult to model, initiate and sustain. Instigating truly transformational change in university assessment practices is rendered even more challenging because it is simultaneously nested in and shaped by the often-competing priorities and practice expectations of institutional and disciplinary contexts that are presently in a state of flux.  

Advance HE’s Transforming Assessment in Higher Education Framework  makes the case for transformation in assessment as an opportunity to re-establish learning and standards rather than measurement and grades as central to effective assessment practices. Amidst the uncertainty and shifting pedagogic landscape in higher education right now, there is need to think seriously about how we put the significant resources devoted to assessment to better use to support students’ learning, as well as academic staff development; and to improve assessment’s fitness for purpose more generally.   

Who is the guide for?

This guide aims to promote the reimagining of higher education assessment regimes by helping institutions and practitioners at all levels recognise the need for and the means to bringing about evidence-informed transformational change. The resource also offers a practical and authentic means of engaging wider stakeholder networks in assessment change, particularly those individual and groups of students within students’ unions with a remit for academic matters.

Favouring a holistic perspective 

The guide offers a mirror and a lens for senior leaders and practitioners to hold up to existing assessment regimes and consider what is working well, and to take an honest and open look at what needs to change in different areas of activity in order to transform understandings and practices of assessment for the long-term. Broadly speaking it proposes that assessment that is more clearly fit for purpose will entail changes related to four integral areas:

Assessment Design: Assessment methods are diversified to improve their validity, authenticity, and inclusivity, making them clearly relevant and worthwhile in the eyes of students and firmly focused on assessing 21st century learning outcomes.

Students: Students are offered greater opportunities for partnership in assessment, with a clear voice in institutional decision-making regarding assessment.

Staff: The assessment literacy of academic staff is paramount for such transformation to take hold and be sustained.

Infrastructure: Available technologies are effectively harnessed to enhance assessment practice, improve feedback processes, and streamline assessment information and administration.

Key features of the guide include:

A practical focus: presenting contemporary evidence of how assessment is being transformed in practice and at scale around three interrelated areas for focus: Innovative assessment; feedback practices and self- and peer-assessment.

A structured framework for review: setting up an evidence-informed approach to exploring the issues and perspectives of assessment; identifying specific priorities; evaluating, consolidating and augmenting existing knowledge of assessment design; and reimagining assessment policy, process, and practice in light of strategic drivers for sustainable and impactful change.

Actionable questions, tools, and resources: including a range of provocations designed to support reflection and inform action in the transforming of assessment at institutional, programme and practitioner level; practical and accessible tools for change designed to draw a clear route to practice at a programme and assessment task level; and a curated collection of key texts and associated resources.

Taken together the component features of this practice guide provide a timely organising framework for successfully taking forward and embedding transformational change in higher education assessment. 

Download the Transforming Assessment Framework guide here.

Dr. Sam Elkington is a PFHEA and Principal Lecturer in Learning and Teaching Excellence at Teesside University where he leads on the University’s strategic learning and teaching enhancement portfolio. Sam’s various research interests span strategic change in higher education, assessment and feedback, student engagement and creativity in learning and teaching.

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