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Course Design Blueprint

Varied assessment types


Courses are expected employ a variety of assessment types that:

  • Provide students opportunities to develop, practice and demonstrate academic and work ready skills and attributes.
  • Are scheduled through the course to enable students’ development to be progressive, with assessment tasks at levels four and five preparing students for the tasks at the higher levels.
  • Enable all students to achieve to their potential given their talents and passions.

The inclusion of a variety of assessment types within a course will require students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways, employing different skills in communication, higher order thinking, and self-management.  It is expected that all courses will provide students with assessment components that involve students communicating using academic and non-academic writing, employing oral/visual communication, and working in groups.  To support students' achievement on such components, they should be provided ample opportunities to learn, practice and refine their abilities through delivery (synchronous and asynchronous), formative assessments and progressive summative assessments within the overall assessment schedule.

In this section we explore some of the wide variety of types and forms of assessment that may be employed as summative assessment.  Before exploring these, it is worth noting some key variables that can distinguish assessment types and approaches, and through which assessment selection and design can be thought through.

  • Load – rather than simply considering the size (word count, duration) of a planned  assessment component, overall assessment load is also determined by
    • The amount of background research students will need to engage with in order to enable them to complete the assessment.
    • The number of different components that the students will need to gain an understanding of.
    • The ‘thinking’ time that is involved in problem solving and critical analysis
    • Time to design, plan and complete practical work, including allowing for mistakes and experimentation where pertinent.
  • Marking focus – It is not always necessary to mark all the work that students complete.  For example:
    • While students may be required to complete a practical piece of research work that generates data for review, if the module is looking at the student’s proficiency in statistical analysis then the marking could be just focussed on that aspect of the work, with the remaining activity forming a formative opportunity for the students.
    • Students may be required to complete a project or workstream within a group, resulting in a presentation, but their marks might be based on a post-presentation reflective piece in which they explore their application of theory or their abilities to work within a group effectively.
  • ‘Freedom’ – assessments can be posed to give students a degree of freedom in how they might respond.  For example, an assessment might require students to create an artifact that can be employed in sharing some subject based good practices with a non-expert audience such as service users or potential customers.  Students could be given freedom in the format that their artifact might take including videos, leaflets, presentations, web pages, or a radio interview script.
  • Complexity of assignment pieces is influenced by the nature of the problems students will need to tackle.  For example, a similar assignment component could be set at all three undergraduate levels of study, differentiated only by the complexity of the problem to be addressed:
    • At level four the students might be required to employ a specific approach or method to address a well defined problem.
    • At level five the students might be required to apply of multiple methods to explore a more complex scenario and provide both findings and an evaluation of their validity and usefulness.
    • At level six the students could be required to address a complex and ill-defined problem, selecting and applying a range of appropriate methods, and providing a professional presentation of findings in formats suitable for both expert and lay audiences.
  • Involvement – while we usually think of assessment work being independently produced by students, this need not always be the case. 
    • Students might be required to work under supervision, demonstrating their ability to follow guidance and adhere to an expectation for professional behaviour in addition to demonstrating subject outcomes.
    • Students might work in groups or taking a role within a team to contribute to an overall project (perhaps as lead by a student of a higher level of studies).
    • Students could be paired up to explore contrasting viewpoints and then complete an assessment that compares and contrasts these.

 

Choosing assessment types

It is impractical to explore all the possible assessment types that could be included in a course's assessment strategy (as illustrated by the selection listed in the diagram below).  Consequently, here we set out some overall approaches and illustrate how these can be enhanced or tailored for specific situations or purposes.


A Proliferation of Assessment Types

Synoptic Assessments

Synoptic assessments offer the opportunity for separate modules to be assessed (partially or fully) through a single assessment component.  This would allow, for example:

  • a single project to be employed to assesses students’ use of the skills learned in one module in a context explored in a second module. 
  • The learning outcomes of one module could be assessed through a pass/fail component, and the students’ achievement above threshold could be determined though a later synoptic assessment shared with another module.
  • Modules delivered in a pair within a double module to share a single assessment component that contributes to the marks of both modules.

Academic Writing

Academic writing assessments take a varietry of forms.  While essays are the mainstay of many courses assessment strategies, and most courses will require students to produce a prolonged dissertation, report or similar prolonged piece of academic writing, there are other formats that might be employed.  In some subject areas there are specific forms of writing that need to be produced by students such as lab reports in some science subjects, and the variety of formats employed in both academic and professional journals and magazines can inspire alternative student assessment component formats.

It is important that students are prepared for their engagement with the forms of academic writing they are required to produce, and course teams are expected to embed opportunities for students to receive guidance and learning for, gain experience of, and receive feedback on their work for each of the skills required by students to produce academic pieces. Consequently, course teams are encourages to provide opportunities for students to produce partial academic pieces both as formative opportunities and as summative assessment components early in their students' learning plan.  Possible partial academic pieces include:

  • essay plans;
  • an abstract for a provided academic journal article;
  • single sections of an essay or report based on already completed sections (a conclusion, an introduction, analysis, ...);
  • a brief literature review accompanied by a references and bibliography.

 

Reflective Writing

For many students, writing in a formal academic style can form a barrier to their ability to express themselves freely and expressively.  Employing reflective writing styles can allow students to effectively produce written evidence of their higher order thinking, particularly in relation to practice and the application of theory to practice, without the need to spend significant time proofing or polishing their work.  Many courses require students to compile reflective diaries that record their experiences, thinking, learning and decisions as they engage with either study activity through a module or with particular learning situations such as work placements, field or prolonged lab work, or research projects.

Reflective writing can form the basis for assessment pieces on their own, or can be utiliused in the collection of evidence for more formal assessment pieces:

  • Students can be asked to submit reflective diaries in full, or to select a number of the entries they have collated in evidence of their learning and achievement.
  • Reflective entries can form a commentary to a learning journal or portfolio where a students documents a developmental process such as could form a central element of a more creative subject's module.
  • Students can be asked to provide a formal written piece in which that are required to discuss their learning and achiecvement against a module's learning outcomes, with them expected to draw from their reflective diary entries as evidence of their learning journey through the module.
  • Students can be required to share reflections through discussion boards and further reflect in response to their peers' contributions, with their submissions forming the basis for assessment judgements or being collated as evidence for a more formal written submission.

Exams and Time Constrained Assessments

The use of time constrained assessment components can have a number of advantages:

  • The production of carefully constructed assessment components will involve students in significant effort associated in polishing and refining their work.  These are key skills that need to be assessed in most courses, but need not be assessed in every module.  The use of time constrained assessments such as short answer response papers, can require the students to demonstrate key cognitive skills (problem solving, critical thinking, theory application) without having the additional load of refining a complete work.
  • The use of time constrained assessment components acts as an effective barrier to many forms of academic misconduct, providing a degree of assurance that it is the students’ own work that is being assessed. 
  • Where a module is delivered in a Block structure, a time constrained assessment can be set at the end of the module’s learning, thus allowing the whole of the block to be employed in the delivery of content rather than requiring much of the latter parts of the module to be set aside for assessment activity.
  • Students with concessions will often require further time beyond the extent of a block to complete their work.  This can then disadvantageously distract students from their learning activities set out in the initial days of the subsequent Block.  Although such students are often afforded additional time to complete time constrained assessments, the assessment will be completed by the end of the block’s allotted duration, and thus will not impact on their ability to engage with a following block of learning.

Traditionally, time constrained assessments have taken the form of exams.  While there is a place for exams, particularly when courses are meeting the expectations for PSRBs or need to prepare students for their engagement with professional exams post graduation, course teams are encouraged to explore other forms of time constrained assessment.  Such alternatives can benefit students by reducing the stress involved, minimising the mystery over what the questions will be, and removing unnecessary time limitations.

Time constrained assignments can be either synchronous or asynchronous.  Synchronous time constrained assignments ususally involve students completing one or more tasks at the same time in a particular phsyical location,  For example, a student group could be required attend a  given time to complete some practical IT based tasks in a computer lab, or to complete a design and prototype process in an appropriately equipped workshop.  An asynchronous time constrained assignment give students flexibility over when they engage with the set tasks within a limited period.  For example, students might be asked to produce written responses to a set of questions or resolve some set problems.  These tasks might be expected to take around two hours but students are allowed to do the work at whatever time is most convenient to them within a twenty-four hour period.

In designing time constrained assignments, the following should be considered:

  • Realistic tasks: as for tradituional exams, the tasks set within a time constrained assignment shoud be achieveable within the allotted time by studnets who are good achievers and those who are capable of lower passing marks.  It is not, for example, reasonable to expect students completing a time constrained assignment to produce a fully referenced essay. 
  • Preparation: Formative assessments can provide students with opportunities to gain familiarity with the assessment experience and how they can best prepare for, and engage with, the assessments.
  • Known questions: traditionally, exam papers have been kept confidential with students only seeing the questions as they turn the paper over in an exam hall.  While this approach can have merits, other approaches can retain the rigour of the assessment process whilst supporting students in both their learning and achievement:
    • Develop question banks: students have access to a significant bank of questions and their solutions from which the assessment’s questions will be selected.  This can be an effective learning approach where there is a significant collection of facts or knowledge chunks that students need to be familiarity with, allowing them to practice through the question bank in advance of the assessments’ staging.  This approach can be facilitated well as an on-line test and makes setting retake assessment easy.
    • For numerical and statistical assessments, students can be provided the assessment questions in advance but will be provided with the data to be used on the day.
    • Students can be provided with a case study to explore and become familiar with in advance of a TCA, and then be required to perform some cognitive or critical activity based on the case study in the TCA.  Conversely, students could be provided with the set of questions that will need to answer in advance, allowing them to be familiar with them and practice them, and then get the case study on which they questions are to be applied on the day.
  • Access to resources: An open book exam is one where students are allowed to bring to the exam hall their own notes and resources in support of completing the work.  Where time constrained assessments are facilitated outside the exam room setting, it will be difficult to prevent students from using course notes, text books and other resources.  Unless the assessment is specifically designed to provide assurance of student’s memory of key facts or knowledge, exams are best designed with the assumption that students will be able to refer to resources, and thus design questions that will require students to apply critical thought and subject skills rather than simply reproducing course content.
  • Excess time: Setting a tight time limit for time constrained assessments enables differentiation of student achievement, with the more able students being able to achieve better through their ability to tackle the assessment quicker.  However, such tight time limits can also be a source of stress for students, and provide a barrier to the inclusiveness of assessments (such as for students for whom English is not their first language who may need longer to comprehend the questions and associated case studies but be as able as others in respect to the modules’ learning outcomes).  Where possible, course teams are encouraged to provide students with more than ample time to complete time constrained assessments.  This also allows for students who have concessions for specific learning difficulties for whom these concessions will not be needed.
Example

On a computing course a tutor required students to demonstrate their ability to complete an analytical process to a case study involving a sequence of steps.  The tutor decided to set a time constrained assessment (TCA) at the end of the module in which students would be required to perform this process.  The tutor shared with the students the time constrained assessment at the start of the module’s delivery within the module guide, and also provided a number of example case studies.  Through the module’s delivery the tutor referred to the TCA and encouraged students to explore the provided case studies as examples within their independent learning.  At the end of the module the students were encouraged to complete two further case studies which the tutor subsequently worked through with them.  Through this, all students had ample opportunity to prepare for the TCA, and were fully informed on what they would be expected to do. 

Presentations

It is normal to include opportunities for students to make presentations to their peers and possibly other audiences in our courses. Presentations can take a number of forms, ranging from short verbal statements through to prolonged multimedia presentations.  It is important that students get sufficient opportunities to develop presentation skills, receiving feedback on their performace on formative opportunities before being required to deliver presentations as summative assessement.

In planning assessment based on presentations, the following points are worthy of consideration:

  • where presentations are to be made in person to an audience, this will need to be recorded to enable the external examiner to view them.  It is usual to also have both the marker and moderator present for the presentations rather than to rely on recordings for the moderation process.  It is good practice to share the recordings with the students to support their consideration of feedback provided and to further support their development.
  • students should be provided with clear guidance in the assessment brief as to the resources they will be able to deploy in making their presentation particularly in respect to the technological and IT equipment will be available.
  • some students are granted reasonable adjustments in respect to presentations and module teams will need to take care to accomodate such studnets' needs carefully.
  • rather than requiring presentations to be made in person, many course teams encourage studnets to create presentations in digital form and submit these.  There are a number of advanges to this approach, including the relieving of the stress on students that in-person presentations can induce, allowing students the opportunity submit their best work, and enabling marking processes to be completed at times that are most convenient to the tutors.  However, to enable such submissions, cousre teams will need to ensure that their studnets are all sufficiently equipped (both in terms of their skills sets and technical resources) to allow them to create the presentations effectively.

Digital Assessments

Some creative subjects and computing based courses require students to submit digital artifacts such as pieces of software, films and sound recordings. Where such digital artifacts will be employed in modules throughout a course, the course team should develop standard processes and instructions for students on how the artifacts should be submitted and include these in the student's handbook.  Consideration will need to be taken to ensure all students have sufficient opportunity to develop their work including ensuring that they all have access to required tools,  systems and facilities, and adequate training in how to use these effectively.

Assessing Physical Artifacts

Many courses will require students to produce physical artifacts, particularly within creative arts and engineering based courses.

  • Course teams will need to ensure that students are afforded fair and ample opportunity to access specialist or general resources required to complete the assessment tasks.  In particular, requirements for students to purchase resources or materials should not form a significant barrier to engagement or achievement for students, and care should be taken to ensure that students with personal access to greater levels of resources and materuials will gain an advantage in terms of achievement.
  • It is important that the assessment brief makes very clear the basis on which marks will be allocated, and that this relates to the learning outcomes of the module.  For example, in a module focussed on the development of ideas or the application of particular theory to inform designs, the marking might be better allocted to the quality of these aspects of the studnets work rather than the polished quality of the artifact submitted, and so studnets can be encouraged to focus thei efforts accordingly.

Portfolios and other content collections

A portfolio is a means by which a variety of different pieces of student work, possibly including some emergent from group activity, can be collected together as a single assessment component. Portfolios are particularly useful as a means by which student can curate evidence that demonstrates their achievement of learning outcomes whilst allowing each student to employ materials that are pertinent to their individual situation, context or talents. By specifying portfolios as an assignment component for a module, teams can allow themselves flexibility to vary the precise elements that students are required to include depending on the approach taken in the module or the variety or nature of case studies employed within the module’s learning activities. Some possibilities that portfolios can offer include:

  • The ability to have a highly structured guided learning experience through which students are required to engage with a number of tasks and collate evidence of these for assessment.
  • The use of a portfolio to collate evidence of a prolonged engagement with a particular problem, project or work experience.  This could be marked directly, or could form an evidence base that each student will reflect on and draw upon within an assessed piece of work that is submitted along with the portfolio.
  • Reflective work can sometime take a more varied form than collections of written text, with some students finding the ability to express themselves pictorially or through other expressive mediums very powerful.  The use of portfolios can emphasise the freedom students can be afforded in their nature of their reflective outputs and recording (see also the separate tab on reflection).

Brightspace has an e-portfolio facility that can be employed for assessments – Please contact the Brightspace team for further details of this facility.

Other options

Particularly suitable for more creative subjects, but often very powerful in opening students up to different ways on thinking in other subjects, there are a number of other assessment formats that involve students curating and commenting on collections of artifacts.  Examples include:

  • Photograph collections with accompanying commentaries or reflections.
  • Sketchbooks that document students design or creative processes and associated decision making.
  • Scrap books collating excerpts from publications (the press, social media posts, professional journals, government publications, …) along with a critical commentary.

Vivas and Interviews

In recent years a few courses have introduced assessments based on vivas, interviews with tutors where student's understanding and learning is tested through questioning.  Such assessments remove the need for students to spend time preparing assessement for submission, and ensure that it is the student's own learning that is assessed.  Vivas can be quite stressful for some students and so care will need to be taken to minimise this.  Some other points worth considering include:

  • Students could be asked to prepare an intial presentation or discussion piece which they could practice in advance.  This would allow them to relax and have a sense that they have made a good start to their assessment. This also facilitates tutors initial questioning by giving a focus that the students have prepared for.
  • it would be normal to have both the marker and the moderator present at a viva, allowing any non-scripted  questioning to be tailored to allow both tutors' considerations to be accounted for.  The vivas should also be recorded for the purpose of external examiner review.
  • while it would seem fair to employ the same set of questions for all students, this can significanly disadvantage the studnets who undertake their viva first, with the probablility that those having later vivas will hear from their friedly peers the questions being used and be able to prepare. 

Peer Assessment / group assessment

Involving students in the processes employed for determining the marks of their peers can be a powerful mechanism for encouraging students to engage with marking criteria, to develop evaluative and judgemental skills, and develop communication skills through their provision of feedback.  Peer assessment can occur in both formative learning activities (see Assessment for learning) and within summative assessment.  In summative assessment, employing peer assessment activity can:

  • require student engagement in presentations and discussions.
  • enable students to provide feedback on their peers' involvement in group activity.
  • encourage students to consider their presentation style and content in accordance with their peers acting as markers.

There are many ways in which we can require students to work with each other as part of their assessment activities.  At times this might involve the students working together towards a particular goal or in solving or addressing a particular scenario (as in Problem based learning).  Other possibilities include having students in one level take on a leadership role, with students at earlier stages in their studies working with them to achieve a particular outcome, and students working together to combine their individual pieces of work to form a larger piece.

Peer assessment in practice

Employing peer assessment approaches should not be taken lightly – students will need to be well prepared for their role and be given support in the marking process.  In addition, there are likely to be students who fear unfairness of marking, or fear a negative impact should they give a low mark to one of their peers.

Using Groupwork in Assessment

In assessing students' work, it is important that the individual achievement of the relevant learning outcomes are demonstrated by each student.  It is also good to reward effective or high quality application of the transferable or non-subject specific skills employed with higher marks. 

As explored in the delivery section, group work should be an essential feature of students learning at the University.   It is usual for all students to have an opportuinity for their abilities to work within groups to be summatively assessed.  Please explore the tabs below to explore the University's expectations for assessed group work.

Exemplary Accomplished (Baseline) Promising Incomplete

Students have opportunities within the course to negotiate with tutors the types of assessment component they are required to submit. 

 

Formative and summative assessment strategies are configured to support and enable the development of each assessment skill and competence through the course.

The course's overall assessment strategy is carefully planned to ensure students gain meaningful experience of producing significant assessment component types along with constructive formative feedback on their work before they are required to submit high stakes summative assessments of each type. 

The course assessment strategy requires students to employ academic and nonacademic written communication skills, oral / visual communication skills, and group work through a variety of assessment types employed across the course.

Students are able to engage with, complete, and gain formative feedback on, each assessment type employed at levels five and above prior to them being employed in summative assessment at those levels.

There is a limited variety of assessment types in place on the course.

Students are provided with sufficient guidance to engage effectively with each assessment type through guidance and support when the type is first encountered in the curriculum.