Good practice examples of assessments at the Faculty of Arts

With Macquarie’s new Assessment Policy in place, attention is now turning to reviewing current assessment tasks in units. There are many posts on Teche on the new assessment policy, assessment ideas in the Science Faculty, and the new hurdle requirements. In this post, we will look at some examples of good assessment practice in the Faculty of Arts.

Assessment policy

Briefly, the Macquarie Assessment Policy states that an assessment task tells the student what is to be learned, and is defined as an opportunity for the student to demonstrate their learning and capabilities. The design of assessment tasks must be “efficient, effective and ethical” as well as “grounded in research-based evidence regarding effective practice”. Some of the evidence-based principles referred to in the policy include curriculum alignment, student engagement, scholarly and evidence-based practice, and quality and timely feedback. Let’s unpack some of these principles and see examples of these assessment tasks in the-the Faculty of Arts.

Authentic assessment tasks

Authentic assessment tasks are a good way to ensure student engagement and constructive alignment between the curriculum, learning outcomes and assessments.

Alex Woods, the convenor of Egyptian Archaeology: An Introduction (AHIS170), has set an object study where students examine an ancient Egyptian artefact from the Macquarie University Museum of Ancient Cultures and write a report on it. This is a task that archaeologists would be required to complete in practice, as part of an archaeological site report or museum catalogue entry. Students use appropriate language, get an awareness of discipline specific research methodologies of archaeological object description and learn to convey their evidenced based interpretations to an audience. The task incorporates elements that are designed for the digital user and to assist students in their task virtual 3D artefacts were created and an archaeological Object Description Activity was designed and embedded in iLearn. Students can view a selection of artefacts in incredible detail, from any angle, adding to the authenticity of the task, and of course without handling these objects or taking them out of the museum. For more information look at Using 3D Artefacts for online teaching or 3D: Add an extra dimension to learning.

“object study archaeologyobject study archaeology” by Alex Woods ©2016
“object study archaeology” by Alex Woods ©2016

Metacognitive skills and portfolios

Research shows that teaching strategies that support students thinking about the process of learning can help them to learn. One of the approaches is to design reflective activities as part of the assessment.

Jane Messer and Victoria Flanagan, the convenors of Literature and Writing in Professional Contexts (ENGL875), ask students to complete a digital portfolio of their work and to reflect on their selections using PebblePad. This is then used to get students to think about the context of the work, the type of skills that it demonstrates, any gaps in their knowledge or skills and how they can use the feedback received on the writing to improve their skills and knowledge. An additional benefit is that the students construct a portfolio of work that they can then use once they leave university.

“PebblePadPebblePad” by Chris Froissard ©2016
“PebblePad” by Chris Froissard ©2016

Scaffolding of tasks with increasing complexity and useful feedback

Scaffolding assessment tasks of increasing complexity is a good way to support students developing their skills and capabilities. In addition, research shows that feedback is amongst “the most powerful influences on achievement” (Hattie, 2008). By providing effective feedback to students, they can improve their performance and increase their learning.

Leigh Boucher, the convenor in War and peace in World History (MHIS211), has scaffolded assessment tasks that build on each other: a preliminary research essay (15%) and a research essay (35%). The former gives students an opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge of historical interpretation, whilst the latter allows them to build on the previous task for a more in-depth complex piece of work. The rubrics used for both have common elements, further reinforcing concepts such as historical knowledge, use of evidence and communication. However, as is relevant to a more complex task, the rubric for the later task has more complex concepts such as a focus on and approach to the problem and argument.

To optimise the opportunity for the student to learn from the preliminary assessment task, there is detailed feedback provided on the work, not only via a rubric but with feedback that includes suggestions and areas for improvement. In addition, the rubric for the research essay is common across the program, hence there is a consistent approach to providing feedback and students understand what is expected of them throughout their course. This rubric was developed as a collaborative departmental exercise and has been in use for about four years. The department also has rubrics for the research essay at 100, 300 and 700 levels.

“bamboo scaffoldingbamboo scaffolding” by The Rohit ©2016
“bamboo scaffolding” by The Rohit ©2016

Underpinning knowledge and timely feedback

The amount of knowledge that students are expected to understand during a session can be overwhelming. Convenors typically build from week to week the knowledge that students are exposed to and asked to understand. Often, there are few opportunities for students to ensure that they understand the principles in one topic, before moving onto the next. If students receive timely, weekly feedback, this can help students to build on their knowledge. Using formative weekly quizzes as assessments tasks can be efficient and effective.

Roy Baker, the convenor of International law (LAWS259) with 684 student enrolments, has designed weekly quizzes around each sub-topic in that week. There can be between 2 and 8 formative quizzes per week. Students are able to do each quiz as many times as they want. Of course, as it’s online, students receive immediate feedback on whether they have understood the principles. To emphasise how each area is a foundation for the next, students are only able to take the following quiz if they have attempted the previous one. Students are then required to complete a summative quiz at the end of the week.

To emphasise the importance of understanding legal principles, the summative quizzes contribute 30% towards the final assessment mark. The formative assessment tasks are extremely well patronised by students. In one case, 1520 student attempts on one of the formative quizzes. By the end of the session, the value students place on this feedback and practice is illustrated by the fact that the formative quizzes have recorded 42 414 attempts by students across the 64 quizzes in the unit, with approximately 662 attempts per quiz. Clearly, although this is an assessment activity that attracts no marks, students can see the value in helping them build their knowledge across the weeks to ultimately prepare them to do well in the summative assessment tasks.   

“FoundationFoundation” by Lael in Alabama ©2016
“Foundation” by Lael in Alabama ©2016

Do you have any good practice examples of assessments at the Faculty of Arts? If so we’d love to hear about them. Contact to share.


Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.