A new Assessment Policy has just been approved by the Academic Senate and will come into effect for Session 2. Associate Professor Michael Hitchens, FSE’s Associate Dean Quality and Standards, gives his answers to some real questions academics have asked about the policy.
Q. What’s happened to the requirement for an early assessment?
A. It’s been removed. But what has to be remembered is that we are now taking a program based approach. So if the program team (that is, the academics responsible for design and teaching the program) thinks some units in the program need an early assessment, then they put it in those units. Giving students early feedback in some units is likely to be very useful, but is unlikely to be necessary in all units in a program.
Q. Does ‘clear performance standards’ mean that you have to write a rubric for each assessment task?
Yes. One of the basic principles of the new policy is clarity. We need to be clear to students about what level of performance is required to achieve each grade in each assessment item.
Who makes decisions about the assessment at a program level?
The program team. The University’s intention is for us to take a collegiate approach to designing assessment across a program.
Who is the program team?
The program convenor and the other academics teaching units in the program. They have the responsibility for determining what assessment is required across a program to deliver on the program learning outcomes of the program.
It is important to note the responsibilities that program teams have. This policy is, in many ways, less prescriptive on an individual unit basis than the previous policy. Responsibility is being given to the program teams to demonstrate how assessment across their program delivers on the stated learning outcomes.
Do you have to provide fully worked examples of relevant assessment tasks?
No. All the policy requires is related and relevant examples. That can include examples in lectures, problems in tutorials and other classes that relate to the assignment.
Do we need to release the mark for exams?
Yes. This is part of making it clear to students how their final result directly relates to their results in the assessment items throughout the unit. Where examinations are used they are usually a significant piece of the assessment and students are entitled to know how they performed in the examination. One way to release these marks is through the Gradebook feature of iLearn.
Is there a timeline for when you have to release marks for assessments to students?
Not a strict one. But one of the principles of the policy is that it be “fair, transparent and equitable.” Returning results to students as soon as it practical is one facet of abiding by this principle.
In what circumstances are ‘hurdle’ assessments pedagogically justified?
That’s not an easy question to which to give a short answer and not something anyone person can answer for all the disciplines that are taught at this University. In considering this we need to look at a number of issues, including the learning outcomes of the unit, how students can demonstrate their achievement of those learning outcomes and how we support students in their learning towards that demonstration. Sometimes hurdles will be appropriate, for example, in clinical settings were students must demonstrate certain behaviours and mastery of techniques.
Other examples may include here, for purposes of learning or demonstrated attainment, performance and participation over time is important or where certain pieces of assessment are more reliable indicators of student attainment than others. However, this answer is in no way complete and the question will need to be discussed within Departments and Faculties.
Why do students have to be given a second chance to pass a hurdle assessment if they’ve made a serious attempt?
Students take hurdle requirements very seriously. We have evidence from campus well-being of the stress they cause students. To be fair to students we need to be very sure that they haven’t achieved the learning outcomes before failing them. Remember that an assessment item is only a way to gauge achievement of learning outcomes, not an end in itself. Therefore if a student is close to meeting a hurdle, but not quite there, giving them a second chance to demonstrate their achievement of the learning outcomes is a fair and equitable way of allowing us to be certain of their level of attainment. The University recognises that setting and marking the second attempts is a cost to academics. This requirement is also a deliberate strategy on the part of the University to make academics think very carefully about which assessment items should be hurdles.
I have an attendance requirement of 8 out of 12 tutorial attendances – is that acceptable as a hurdle assessment?
No, but almost. Hurdles have to be justifiable pedagogically. Attendance is hard to justify that way, as a student could be in the room but not taking in part in any activities related to the unit. A participation requirement can be justified. Then the above, with participation replacing attendance, is justifiable and better yet, embeds the required second chance in the form of the classes above the hurdle requirement
Do you have to use Turnitin for text-based assessments, or can you use the Assignment tool in iLearn?
You can use either, but text-based assessment have to be put through plagiarism detection software. How you arrange that is up to you.
What about practicals worth 20% or more, do you have to keep an archive of them?
If you have a number of practicals adding up to that 20%, then no. The 20% requirement is for individual assessment tasks worth 20% or more. So if you have ten weekly tasks worth 2% each you do not have to archive them. However, the new policy implicitly advises against such a structure. First, it asks for economy of assessment. Ten tasks plus whatever makes up the other 80% isn’t very economic. Also, small weekly assessment tend to result in students banking the marks and many getting 80% – 100%, making such tasks useless in discriminating student performance. If you are using this to encourage student participation, consider a hurdle requirement which is not associated with marks.
What are the things academics should focus on getting right for Session 2?
My top three (in no particular order):
1. Checking whether your hurdle requirements are appropriate and whether they pedagogically justified.
2. Making sure any group work has the required component assessed on an individual’s work only.
3. Thinking about whether all your assessment items are actually required in order to gauge whether students have met the learning outcomes of the unit.