What matters in assessment: insights from the experiences of academics and students of assessment that supports learning in higher education

McLean, H 2016, What matters in assessment: insights from the experiences of academics and students of assessment that supports learning in higher education, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Education, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title What matters in assessment: insights from the experiences of academics and students of assessment that supports learning in higher education
Author(s) McLean, H
Year 2016
Abstract The benefits of assessment that supports learning in higher education are widely recognised. Recent research reflects perspectives of constructivist learning and formative assessment that give emphasis on learner independence through future learning, feedback, peer review and self-assessment. In the broader setting, stakeholders and employers have expectations for graduates to be professionally competent, knowledgeable and able to contribute effectively to an increasingly complex world. Such expectations are juxtaposed with managerial and accountability imperatives which are regulated through quality assurance systems and educational standards such as the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency and the Australian Qualifications Framework.

In this context, traditional summative assessment is increasingly under question for its suitability to determine whether students have demonstrated essential knowledge and achieved the complexity of learning required for a globalised society. Despite these doubts, practices and policies for assessment that supports learning are not widely applied in higher education.

This study adopted a different approach to research assessment in higher education by examining the sociocultural experience of learning and assessment to understand how academics and their students perceive and participate in assessment. It was guided by the research question How do higher education academics and their final year students engage with assessment that supports learning?

A qualitative in-depth case study approach was adopted and involved seven academics and 14 students at an Australian university in the disciplines of Education, Industrial Design and International Studies. The study was framed by an interpretivist worldview and used semi-structured interviews and document analysis to investigate how academics and students understand and participate in assessment. The accounts of academics and students were analysed using a Power, Risk and Reconceptualisation framework. This framework enabled the sociocultural issues relating to the lived experience and individual meanings of participants to emerge.

Five findings emerged that inform understanding of assessment as practice and experience for learners and teachers. First, students and academics give high value to dialogue as a device of trust and power for building learner capacity. Second, academics’ familiarity with students’ individual learning reinforces student trust in the integrity and reliability of assessment. Third, academics are intrinsically motivated to engage in assessment that supports learning, including the reason to instil certain dispositions of learning. Fourth, alongside skills and knowledge for employability, academics wanted students to develop dispositions of learning for stewardship and engaging with complexity to generate change and reform for others. Finally, academics and students conceptualised learning and assessment in a sociocultural framework whereby processes and activities were entwined and negotiated to achieve learning that was purposeful, holistic and applied.

This study contributes to understandings of learning and assessment by identifying issues of power, risk and trust in the teaching strategies and learning relationships that enhance and constrain practice. Importantly it shows that dialogue is recognised by academics and students as a powerful construct for empowering learners. The study is significant because it also proposes that the design and intended experiences of assessment that supports learning can facilitate development of specific dispositions of learning for thinking and being in learners.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Education
Subjects Curriculum and Pedagogy Theory and Development
Higher Education
Education Assessment and Evaluation
Keyword(s) Assessment
Higher Education
Formative assessment
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Created: Fri, 17 Mar 2017, 08:52:44 EST by Denise Paciocco
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