Engaging students in assessment design

Dr Maria Kambouri-Danos, Institute of Education             m.kambouridanos@reading.ac.uk                                                                                                   Year of activity 2016/17

Overview

This entry aims to share the experience of re-designing and evaluating assessment in collaboration with students. It explains the need for developing the new assessment design and then discusses the process of implementing and evaluating its appropriateness. It finally reflects on the impact of MCQ tests, when assessing students in higher education (HE), and the importance of engaging students as partners in the development of new assessment tools.

Objectives

  • To re-design assessment and remove a high-stakes assessment element.
  • To proactively engage ‘students as partners’ in the development and evaluation of the new assessment tool.
  • To identify the appropriateness of the new design and its impact on both students and staff.

Context

Child Development (ED3FCD) is the core module for the BA in Children’s Development and Learning (BACDL), meaning that a pass grade must be achieved on the first submission to gain a BA Honours degree classification (failing leads to an ordinary degree). The assessment needed to be redesigned as it put the total weight of students’ mark on one essay. As the programme director, I wanted to engage the students in the re-design process and evaluate the impact of the new design on both students and staff.

Implementation

After attending a session on ‘Effective Feedback: Ensuring Assessment and Feedback works for both Students and Staff Across a Programme’ I decided to explore more the idea of using Multiple Choice Tests (MCQ). To do so, I attended a session on ‘Team Based Learning (TBL)’ and another on ‘MCQ: More than just a Test of Information Recall’, to gather targeted knowledge about designing effective MCQ questions.

I realised that MCQ tests can help access students’ understanding and knowledge and also stimulate students’ active and self-managed learning. Guided by the idea of ‘assessment for learning’, I proposed the use of an MCQ test during a steering group meeting (employees and alumni) and a Board of Studies (BoS) meeting, which 2nd year Foundation Degree as well as BACDL student representatives attended. The idea was resisted initially, as MCQ tests are not traditionally used in HE education departments. However, after exploring different options and highlighting the advantages of MCQ tests, the agreement was unanimous. At the last BoS meeting (2016), students and staff finalised the proposal for the new design, proposing to use the MCQ test for 20% of the overall mark, keeping the essay for the remaining 80%.

At the beginning of 2017, I invited all BACDL students to anonymously post their thoughts and concerns about the new design (and the MCQ test) on Padlet. Based on these comments, I then worked closely with the programme’s student representatives and had regular meetings to discuss, plan and finalise the assessment design. We decided how to calculate the final mark (as the test was completed individually and then in a group) as well as the total number of questions, the duration of the test, etc.  A pilot study was then conducted during which a sample MCQ test was shared with all the students, asking them to practise and then provide feedback. This helped to decide the style of the questions used for the final test, an example of which is given below:

There are now more than one million learners in UK schools who speak English as an additional language (EAL). This represents a considerable proportion of the school population, well above 15 per cent. To help EAL children develop their English, teachers should do all the following, except…

a. use more pictures and photographs to help children make sense of new information.

b. use drama and role play to make learning memorable and encourage empathy.

c. maintain and develop the child’s first language alongside improving their English.

d. get children to work individually because getting them into groups will confuse them and make them feel bad for not understanding.

 e. provide opportunities to talk before writing and use drills to help children memorise new language.

Impact

Students were highly engaged in the process of developing the new design, and the staff-student collaboration encouraged the development of bonds within the group. The students were excited with the opportunity to actively develop their own course and the experience empowered them to take ownership of their own learning. All of them agreed that they felt important and as a student representative said, “their voices were heard”.

The new design encouraged students to take the time to gauge what they already know and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Students themselves noted that the MCQ test helped them to develop their learning as it was an additional study opportunity. One of them commented that “…writing notes was a good preparation for the exam. The examination was a good learning experience.” Staff also agreed that the test enabled students to (re)evaluate their own performance and enhance their learning. One of the team members noted that the “…test was highly appropriate for the module as it offered an opportunity for students to demonstrate their proficiency against all of the learning outcomes”.

Reflections

The new assessment design was implemented successfully because listening to the students’ voice and responding to their feedback was an essential part of the designing process. Providing opportunities to both students and staff to offer their views and opinions and clearly recognising and responding to their needs were essential, as these measures empowered them and helped them to take ownership of their learning.

The BACDL experience suggests that MCQ tests can be adapted and used for different subject areas as well as to measure a great variety of educational objectives. Their flexibility means that they can be used for different levels of study or learning outcomes, from simple recall of knowledge to more complex levels, such as the student’s ability to analyse phenomena or apply principles to new situations.

However, good MCQ tests take time to develop. It is hoped that next year the process of developing the test will be less time-consuming as we already have a bank of questions that we could use. This will enable randomisation of questions which will also help to avoid misconduct. We are also investigating options that would allow for the test to be administered online, meaning that feedback could be offered immediately, reducing even further the time/effort required to mark the test.

Follow up

MCQ tests are not a panacea; just like any other type of assessment tool, MCQ tests have advantages and limitations. This project has confirmed that MCQ tests are adaptable and can be used for different subject areas as well as to measure a great variety of educational objectives. The evaluation of the assessment design will continue next year and further feedback will be collected by the cohort and next year’s student representatives.

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