Associate Professor David Carless from the University of Hong Kong describes Learning-oriented Assessment and some possible directions for tertiary assessment inthe future
Here we feature an article by Associate Professor David Carless, Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong, on learning-orientated assessment and some possible directions for assessment in the future.
This paper is drawn from his keynote chapter in Tertiary Assessment & Higher Education Student Outcomes: Policy, Practice & Research. This 300-page book is based on papers presented at the Symposium on Tertiary Assessment and Higher Education Student Outcomes in November 2008. There is also a summary document of the book, available for free download.
There are many tensions which impact on the practice of assessment. Probably the most pressing of these is the relationship between the dominant summative or grading-focused needs of assessment, and those more focused on learning and improvement (formative assessment). Learning-oriented assessment represents an attempt to reconcile formative and summative assessment, and focus all forms of assessment on the development of productive student learning. In this article I will highlight the three interlocking dimensions of learning-oriented assessment: assessment tasks as learning tasks; student involvement in assessment; and the closing of feedback loops. Coherence among these three dimensions can be achieved, for example, when assessment task design explicitly addresses the issues of student involvement and supports the closing of feedback loops.
The learning-oriented assessment framework involves three principles:
- Assessment tasks should be designed to stimulate productive learning practices amongst students;
- Assessment should involve students actively engaging with criteria, quality, their own and/or peers’ performance;
- Feedback should be timely and forward-looking so as to support current and future student learning.
Assessment tasks should prompt students to engage evenly over the course of a module rather than being concentrated at its end (Gibbs, 2006). The kinds of task most likely to generate such productive learning amongst students include integrated or multi-stage assignments, such as projects or portfolios.
Learning-oriented assessment also predisposes that student involvement in assessment (Falchikov, 2005) through peer and self-assessment is crucial. Peer feedback is preferred to peer assessment (Liu & Carless, 2006) as a vehicle to involve students in dialogues around performance and learning. The related ability to self-evaluate is probably the most important skill that we can foster in our students (Boud, 2000).
Feedback is critical to student learning (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), yet increasingly difficult to engineer effectively within contemporary resource constraints; and when staff and student perceptions are often at odds (Carless, 2006). Whilst providing timely feedback which students have potential to act upon is clearly desirable, more is required to support the closing of feedback loops. Feedback may be in need of a more fundamental re-conceptualization in which student self-regulation becomes paramount (Nicol & Macfarlane Dick, 2006).
Key challenges for learning-oriented assessment include staff and student orientations to assessment which are sometimes marked by conservatism or lack of sophistication. Wider governmental and institutional forces, such as accountability pressures and associated distrust (Carless, 2009) can also act as impediments to learning-oriented assessment.
The LOAP project
The Learning-Oriented Assessment Project (LOAP) was funded by the University Grants Committee to support the development of a more balanced assessment culture. The project represents a cross-institutional attempt to identify and disseminate assessment practices which promoted the learning as well as the grading function (Carless, 2007). One of its main contributions was a practical collection of learning-oriented assessment practices (Carless, Joughin, Liu, & Associates, 2006). This sourcebook contains chapters reviewing key challenges and progress in assessment; describes a conceptual framework for learning-oriented assessment; and showcases 39 short accounts of assessment practice, each including a commentary and further suggestions. It was felt that this kind of practical contribution was not widespread in the existing literature and would be welcomed by colleagues interested in diversifying their practices. In brief, LOAP achieved a strong profile both institutionally and further afield, through its academic activities, publications (e.g. Joughin, 2009) and collaboration with high-profile international consultants.
Possible ways forward
Despite the difficulties of effecting assessment reform, by viewing the three components of the learning-oriented assessment framework in an integrated way, there do appear to be some potentially promising ways forward. In terms of task design, assignments can be engineered in ways to maximize student engagement and learning, for example through multi-stage tasks, whereby student learning from a first-stage can feed into performance in a second stage. This can also facilitate student self-regulation via a sequence of reflective activities by which students can develop awareness of quality through applying criteria to samples or performance. The development of the ability to self-regulate supports students in processing and using feedback effectively. Task design facilitates these processes when assignments provide opportunities for repeated iterations of peer feedback and self-regulatory activity over the course of a module. Feedback may then be re-conceptualized in terms of sustainable feedback (Hounsell, 2007) which can be defined as activities and processes which can support and inform the student on the current task, whilst also developing the ability to self-regulate performance on future tasks (Carless et al., 2010, in process).
- Boud, D. (2000). Sustainable assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22(2), 151-167.
- Carless, D. (2006). Differing perceptions in the feedback process. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 219-233.
- Carless, D. (2007). Learning-oriented assessment: Conceptual basis and practical implications. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 44(1), 57-66.
- Carless, D. (2009). Trust, distrust and their impact on assessment reform. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(1), 79-89.
- Carless, D., Joughin, G., Liu, N. F., & Associates (2006). How assessment supports learning: Learning-oriented assessment in action. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
- Carless, D., Salter, S., Yang, M. & Lam, J. (2010, in process). Developing sustainable feedback practices. Manuscript under review.
- Falchikov, N. (2005). Improving assessment through student involvement. London: Routledge Falmer.
- Gibbs, G. (2006). How assessment frames student learning. In C.Bryan & K.Clegg, (Eds.), Innovative assessment in higher education (pp. 23-36). London: Routledge.
- Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.
- Hounsell, D. (2007). Towards more sustainable feedback to students. In Boud, D. & Falchikov, N. (eds.) Rethinking assessment in higher education. London: Routledge.
- Joughin, G. (2009). (Ed.), Assessment, Learning and Judgement in Higher Education. Dordrecht: Springer.
- Liu, N. F., & Carless, D. (2006). Peer feedback: The learning element of peer assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), 279-290.
- Nicol, D. & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.
Originally published in the New Zealand Education Review, Vol 14 No.43, November 6th 2009