First day of my optional module, Assessment and Feedback for Learning, began with a discussion of how assessment can be used for learning, rather than as a tool to measure learning. The module has this concept at its core and, as such, the main assessment of this module is to critically analyse two assessments that you have used or written previously. There is also a second assessment, to write a personal reflective report on how you have found the problem based learning approach taken in this module, and how what you have learned impacts on your own academic practice. Very meta.
After setting out the learning objectives and the assessments of the modules, the remainder of the day was spent discussing the various factors and contexts which influence how assessments are set and marked. These included how student expectations have changed as a result of the marketisation of the sector, the university’s generic assessment criteria and how that relates to the learning outcomes on individual modules, and the cascading down of risk onto lecturers, e.g. pressures around graduate employability and how that influences the assessments which are set.
We also discussed the difference between formative and summative assessment, and how and why students often see formative assessments as options. There was a little about Foucault’s ‘regimes of truth’ (got to love a bit of Foucault!), and the concepts of the hidden curriculum and expectations – that everyone has a certain baseline IT literacy for example.
Continued our discussion on curriculum design, this time using John Biggs’s idea of constructive alignment. This is the theory that learning is best accomplished by having students construct meaning for themselves, rather than trying to impart or transmit knowledge. The role of the teacher in this model is to be a catalyst for learning and to facilitate the process by providing relevant learning activities and an optimum environment in which learning can take place.
We then discussed the importance of getting learning outcomes right and the need to regularly review and revise them based on student outcomes. A tip given for writing learning outcomes was to avoid using ‘understand’ as the measurable verb, to instead use something which places the focus on a practical application if possible. Again, Bloom’s taxonomy was recommended as a source of inspiration for alternatives.
For the afternoon session there was a change of lecturer and topic, to discuss the scholarship of teaching and learning using the work of Angela Brew as a starting point. The argument here is that, as an academic, you should focus on teaching and learning first, and scholarship will follow naturally. We discussed Foucault’s ideas about truth and the regimes of truth, and how the current neoliberal agenda is repurposing higher education to produce employable and marketable students who will become high earners, rather than the traditional purpose which was to produce citizens capable of critical and independent thought. Tying these strands together, if the neoliberalisation of HE was applied consistently, then teaching would be more highly valued than scholarship or research, as the bulk of university funding now comes directly from students through tuition fees.