Lecturing Series: Moving Away From Standard Assessments

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As a new lecturer you might have the opportunity to devise assessment strategies for a course that you are working on. This will give you the opportunity to be creative but also requires you to be able to fit the acquisition of skills into a broader curriculum.

Why move away from a standard model?

The standard higher education model of assessment is usually essays throughout the course and exams at the end of it. There are many reasons why this model is inadequate. It allows students who are strong in sustained writing to flourish whereas others can struggle. It doesn’t actually test the use of knowledge but often the memorising of information and also these sorts of assignment bear little resemblance to tasks completed in the world of work after university.

So by changing your assessments you can help to improve student experience, either by giving them more skills that will be useful after university or buy allowing them to display their knowledge in a new way.

Key questions to ask:

If you are thinking of moving away from the standard essay or exam model, consider what other lecturers do on their courses. Is innovation possible and encouraged at your university? If so, what do others do? You will need to check two things. Firstly that what you propose to do gives students a comparable experience to other courses. And secondly that it is not duplicating tasks they will complete elsewhere.

What options do I have?

Here are some of the non-standard assessment options. Each will not be suitable for all subject areas but most can be adapted to fit your curriculum.

  • Oral Presentations: asking students to prepare a presentation and deliver it in front of their classmates is an excellent skill to have moving forward into the workplace and will also give those learners who struggle writing extended pieces of prose the opportunity to show what they can do.
  • Electronic assessments, for example wikis or blogs: most universities now have e-learning systems which allow you to assess your students by allowing them to contribute online to a wiki or blog. Tests can also be conducted online, which can allow students to repeatedly attempt questions.
  • Peer reviewing elements: this means that students contribute to marking other students. Obviously it would not be appropriate for students to decide a large proportion of the marks for their peers, but allowing a contribution from their classmates, judging for example a presentation, encourages in-depth participation from students. They are likely to be rigorous yet fair because they want the same treatment in return.
  • Assessing classroom participation: some lecturers award bonus marks for participation in small group activity. Sometimes it is difficult to encourage students to contribute in a seminar but giving them bonus points is one way to do this. However, it does mean that the teacher has to be alert all the time, noting who is making comments in class time and who remains quiet. It also penalises the students who are very bright but very shy.
  • Assessing attendance: some lecturers award marks for good attendance. But again this can be difficult to monitor, especially as you will have some students who miss class for a justifiable reason but this might only emerge later.

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