TESTA, School of Politics & International Relations, University of Nottingham (May 2014)
1. Learning from assessment:
insights about student learning
from programme level evidence
Dr Tansy Jessop, TESTA Project Leader
Launch of the Teaching Centre
School of Politics and International Relations
University of Nottingham
15 May 2014
2. 1) Assessment drives what students pay
attention to, and defines the actual
curriculum (Ramsden 1992).
2) Feedback is significant (Hattie, 2009; Black
and Wiliam, 1998)
3) Programme is central to influencing change.
3. Thinking about modules
modulus (Latin): small measure
“sections for easy constructions”
“a self-contained unit”
4. How well does IKEA 101 packaging
work for Sociology 101?
Quick and instantaneous
Comes with written
Long and complicated
Slow, needs deliberation
5. HEA funded research project (2009-12)
Seven programmes in four partner universities
Maps programme-wide assessment
Engages with Quality Assurance processes
Diagnosis – intervention – cure
What is TESTA?
Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment
Challenging and high expectations
Students need to understand goals and standards
Detailed, high quality, developmental feedback
Dialogic cycles of feedback
Deep learning – beyond factual recall
Based on assessment principles
10. TESTA Research Methods
(Drawing on Gibbs and Dunbar-Goddet, 2008,2009)
11. Case Study X: what’s going on?
Mainly full-time lecturers
Plenty of varieties of assessment, no exams
Reasonable amount of formative assessment (14 x)
33 summative assessments
Masses of written feedback on assignments (15,000 words)
Learning outcomes and criteria clearly specified
….looks like a ‘model’ assessment environment
Don’t put in a lot of effort and distribute their effort across few topics
Don’t think there is a lot of feedback or that it very useful, and don’t
make use of it
Don’t think it is at all clear what the goals and standards are
12. Case Study Y: what’s going on?
35 summative assessments
No formative assessment specified in documents
Learning outcomes and criteria wordy and woolly
Marking by global, tacit, professional judgements
Teaching staff mainly part-time and hourly paid
….looks like a problematic assessment environment
Put in a lot of effort and distribute their effort across topics
Have a very clear idea of goals and standards
Are self-regulating and have a good idea of how to close the gap
16. In pairs/groups, read through quotes from student
focus group data on a particular theme.
What problems does the data imply?
What solutions might a programme develop to
address some of these challenges?
A3 sheets provided to tease out challenges and
Focus Group data
18. If there weren’t loads of other assessments, I’d do it.
If there are no actual consequences of not doing it, most
students are going to sit in the bar.
I would probably work for tasks, but for a lot of people, if
it’s not going to count towards your degree, why bother?
The lecturers do formative assessment but we don’t get
any feedback on it.
Theme 1: Formative is a great idea
19. We could do with more assessments over the course of the year
to make sure that people are actually doing stuff.
We get too much of this end or half way through the term essay
type things. Continual assessments would be so much better.
So you could have a great time doing nothing until like a month
before Christmas and you’d suddenly panic. I prefer steady
deadlines, there’s a gradual move forward, rather than bam!
Theme 2: Assessment isn’t driving
and distributing student effort
20. The feedback is generally focused on the module.
It’s difficult because your assignments are so detached from
the next one you do for that subject. They don’t relate to each
Because it’s at the end of the module, it doesn’t feed into our
You’ll get really detailed, really commenting feedback from
one tutor and the next tutor will just say ‘Well done’.
Theme 3: Feedback is disjointed
21. The criteria are in a formal document so the language is quite
complex and I’ve had to read it a good few times to kind of
understand what they are saying.
Assessment criteria can make you take a really narrow approach.
I don’t have any idea of why it got that mark.
They read the essay and then they get a general impression, then
they pluck a mark from the air.
It’s a shot in the dark.
We’ve got two tutors – one marks completely differently to the
other and it’s pot luck which one you get.
Theme 4: Students are not clear
about goals and standards
22. 1. Too much summative; too little formative
2. Too wide a variety of assessment
3. Lack of time on task
4. Inconsistent marking standards
5. ‘Ticking’ modules off
6. Poor feedback: too little and too slow
7. Lack of oral feedback; lack of dialogue about standards
8. Instrumental reproduction of materials for marks
23. 1. Students and staff can’t do more of both.
2. Reductions in summative – how many is enough?
3. Increase in formative – and make sure it is valued and
4. Debunking the myth of two summative per module.
5. Articulating rationale with students, lecturers, senior
managers and QA managers.
1. Summative-formative issues
24. The case of the under-performing engineers (Graham,
The case of the cunning (but not litigious) lawyers (Graham,
The case of the silent teachers (Winchester)
The case of the lost accountants (Winchester)
The case of the disengaged Media students (Winchester)
The case of the instrumental scientists (Saurashtra)
1. Examples of ramping up formative
25. The case of low effort on Media Studies
The case of bunching on the BA Primary
2. Examples of improving ‘time on task’
26. The case of the closed door (Psychology)
The case of the one-off in History (Bath Spa)
The case of the Sports Psychologist (Winchester)
The conversation gambit
3. Engaging students in reflection
through improving feedback
27. The case of the maverick History lecturer (a dove)
The case of the highly individualistic creative
4. Internalising goals and standards
29. Improvements in NSS scores on A&F – from bottom
quartile in 2009 to top quartile in 2013
Three programmes with 100% satisfaction ratings post
All TESTA programmes have some movement upwards
on A&F scores
Programme teams are talking about A&F and pedagogy
Periodic review processes are changing for the better.
31. Gibbs, G. & Simpson, C. (2004) Conditions under which assessment supports students' learning.
Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. 1(1): 3-31.
Gibbs, G. & Dunbar-Goddet, H. (2009). Characterising programme-level assessment environments
that support learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 34,4: 481-489.
Hattie, J. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. 77(1) 81-112.
Jessop, T. and Maleckar, B. (in press). The Influence of disciplinary assessment patterns on student
learning: a comparative study. Studies in Higher Education.
Jessop, T. , El Hakim, Y. and Gibbs, G. (2014) The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: a large-
scale study of students’ learning in response to different assessment patterns. Assessment and
Evaluation in Higher Education. 39(1) 73-88.
Jessop, T, McNab, N & Gubby, L. (2012) Mind the gap: An analysis of how quality assurance processes
influence programme assessment patterns. Active Learning in Higher Education. 13(3). 143-154.
Nicol, D. (2010) From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher
education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35: 5, 501 – 517
Sadler, D.R. (1989) Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems, Instructional
Science, 18, 119-144.
Students spend most time and effort on assessment. Assessment is the cue for student learning and attention. It is also the area where students show least satisfaction on the NSS. Scores on other factors return about 85% of good rankings, whereas only 75% of students find assessment and feedback ‘good’. We often think the curriculum is the knowledge, content and skills we set out in the planned curriculum, but from a students’ perspective, the assessment demands frame the curriculum. Looking at assessment from a modular perspective leads to myopia about the whole degree, the disciplinary discourse, and often prevents students from connecting and integrating knowledge and meeting progression targets. It is very difficult for individual teachers on modules to change the way a programme works through exemplary assessment practice on modules. It takes a programme team and a programme to bring about changes in the student experience. Assessment innovations at the individual module level often fail to address assessment problems at the programme-level, some of which, such as too much summative assessment and not enough formative assessment, are a direct consequence of module-focused course design and innovation.
Raise the question: are there problems with the packaging? Works for furniture – does it work for student learning? Assumptions of modularity: self-contained; disconnected; interchangeable. The next slide indicates some of the tensions of packaging learning in modules, and tensions inherent in the ,metaphor./
Originally used for furniture and prefab and modular homes – how well does it suit educational purposes? I’m not taking issue with modules per se, but want to highlight that there have been some unintended consequences – some good, some bad – of using modular systems. Many programmes have navigated through them, some haven’t. Anyone who has built IKEA furniture knows that the instructions are far from self-evident – and we have translated a lot of our instructions, criteria, programme and module documents for students in ways that may be as baffling for them. Have we squeezed learning into a mould that works better for furniture?
Huge appetite for programme-level data in the sector. Worked with more than 100 programmes in 40 universities internationally. The timing of TESTA – many universities revisiting the design of degrees, thinking about coherence, progression and the impact of modules on student learning. The confluence of modules with semesterisation, lacl of slow learning, silo effects and pointlessness of feedback after the end of a module…
What started as a research methodology has become a way of thinking. David Nicol – changing the discourse, the way we think about assessment and feedback; not only technical, research, mapping, also shaping our thinking. Evidence, assessment principles
Based on robust research methods about whole programmes - 40 audits; 2000 AEQ returns; 50 focus groups. The two triangulating methodologies of the AEQ and focus groups are student experience data – student voice etc. Three legged stool. These three elements of data are compiled into a case profile which captures the interaction of an academic’s programme view, the ‘official line’ or discourse of assessment and how students perceive it. This is a very dynamic rendering because student voice is explanatory, but also probes some of our assumptions as academics about how students work and how assessment works for them etc. Finally the case profile is subject to discussion and contextualisation by insiders – the people who teach on the programme, who prioritise interventions.
Large programme; modular approaches; marker variation, late feedback; dependency on tutors
Student workloads often concentrated around two summative points per module. Sequencing, timing, bunching issues, and ticking off modules so students don’t pay attention to feedback at the end point.
Limitations of explicit criteria, marker variation is huge, particularly in humanities, arts and professional courses (non science ones) Students haven’t internalised standards which are often tacit. Marking workshops, exemplars, peer review.
Seminars youtube presentations; teaching student – map my programme; under-confident but keen journal club Principlesmake it authentic, Multi stage; Public work – social pressure; Spread and co-ordinate hand in dates; Formative requirementspeer marking and accountabilitysamplingSetting first year expectationsBrief, frequent, innovative, developmental
TESTA Higher Education Academy NTFS project, funded for 3 years in 2009. 4 partner universities, 7 programmes – ‘cathedrals group’. Gather data on whole programme assessment, and feed this back to teams in order to bring about changes. In the original seven programmes collected before and after data.