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A collaboration between Muireann O'Keeffe, Clare Gormley, Pip Bruce Ferguson DCU, Dublin, Ireland
There has been mounting criticism of grading systems in recent years although objections about its inherent inequalities are nothing new (Ferrer, 1913, Pike 1973). Graded assessment has been particularly criticised for its promotion of a culture of competitive individualism, passive acceptance of the teacher as authority figure, and general undermining of intrinsic motivations for students to become "independent, critically engaged, self-directed learners" (Tannock, 2015). When added to known issues regarding the unreliability of marking, and the tendency for students to focus on marks at the expense of feedback, the case for moving away from a graded approach seems justifiable.
In our academic development modules we, therefore, wanted to move from a graded approach of assessment to a formative approach. This was due to a number of factors including advice from our external examiner to move away from a fine-grained marking scheme; the fact that similar academic development programmes at local institutions were implementing pass/fail approaches; and a growing awareness of the international literature around the benefits of assessment for learning. Similar to others in the field (Trevitt, Stocks,& Quinlan, 2012) we thought it important to align our assessment practices in line with our philosophy of implementing a feedback-oriented model of learning with our module participants. This approach was taken with a view to empowering students in their learning (Winter, 1993) which could be linked to long-term progress as learners (Hughes, 2011).
Finally we became interested in implementing the pass/fail model to reinforce the idea that academic professional development is about becoming a teaching professional, becoming part of a community of educators, and this should continue after the 'formal' learning ends. According to Daniels et al (2004) (see also Gibbs, Guba & Lincoln, 1989) formative feedback rather than marking is more helpful when fostering a peer mode of feedback and can contribute to a sense of community. On the other hand marking with grades can be an impeding factor to an effective formative and peer feedback process in this context.
This presentation aims to discuss the experience of implementing a pass/fail model of marking on two academic professional development modules and by addressing the following questions:
1. Why was the shift to pass-fail marking undertaken?
2. How did students respond to the new model of marking?
3. What were the lessons learned from this change approach?