Transforming Assessment: A Student Perspective

Rose Seneviratne (Student Digital Learning Officer)

Assessments are a big part of the university experience. They act as key markers of progression and learning throughout the course. They are also embedded in mental health issues, specifically stress and anxiety that university students are known for. The transformation of assessments with an understanding of the student perspective can allow them to become more than just obligatory suffering needed to get a degree over with. The negative attitude toward assessments held by a majority of students could be a result of a deviation from the assessment-oriented educational system or could be a result of misinformation where assessments are seen as a hit and miss with little done to help students understand what it means and why it is important. The event hosted by Advance HE on Transforming Assessment was a key part of this conversation.

The event began with Ian Turner’s energetic introduction of key figures introducing the efforts made by the University to transform assessments. Julie Stone – director of UDOL – discussed the importance of a varied assessment strategy which leads to an impact on society. Helen Wilson and Mel Smith – program leaders – discussed efforts they took to enhance assessment literacy in students. David Elliot – module leader – discussed efforts he took to digitise examinations and promote varied assessments, such as building wikis and apps. Then we heard from the Advance HE team on their strategies and tenets. Professor Ben Brabon discussed key tenets and Sam Elkington outlined several strategies and insights based on research and work done at other universities.

One of the key takeaways from this first session was how impressive the work done by Helen and Mel was. They talked about three key issues identified by students: (1) not understanding feedback or learning outcomes, (2) being unclear about what exactly to improve, and (3) needing consistency across the team. They have taken great strides towards enhancing assessment literacy by providing students with a choice of feedback that makes the most sense to them.

Sam mentioned the twofold purpose of assessments: first assessments for learning and assessments for certification. The dichotomy here was reflected in the activities later where it was clear that students and lecturers have differing opinions about priorities in assessments. Bridging this gap by identifying what creates passion and enjoyment in students is the logical step to increase engagement with learning objectives. This will have run-on effects on student retention and mental health outcomes.

The afternoon workshops asked some thought-provoking questions. Specifically, what are the most important factors in assessments? We were asked to write out 9 priorities and arrange them in order of importance. We then discussed this in tables to identify differences and similarities across disciplines and perspectives. We were then asked to think about what will be important 10 years into the future. Given the 4th Industrial Revolution and advances in AI, it seemed reasonable to me to assume that learning would become tailored to individual preferences and requirements in the future.

We were told that the modern student is an innovator, globally aware, civically engaged, a critical thinker, a self-directed learner, a communicator, a problem solver, a collaborator, financially and economically literate, and information and media literate. The clear way ahead is engaging in these events, reconciling what the modern student is with what the modern student should be to ensure that all parties involved gain what needs to be gained through this experience and that at the end we see a positive trend for human civilisation which begins and ends with academia.