Assessment and feedback literacy
The Assessment Strategy (QMUL - 2019/21) defines the following key principles:
- Programme‐level assessment approaches (and, where applicable, year‐level assessment approaches)
- Assessment for Learning
- Students as Partners approach
- Assessment and feedback: authentic, actively contributing to students’ understanding, inclusive, streamlined and trustworthy.
- Feedback literacy of students
- Feedback literacy of staff
- Building communities of practice
- Relevant technologies
Assessment literacy can be defined as students’ ability to understand the purpose and processes of assessment, and accurately judge their own work.
(Smith et al, 2013, p.44).
Students’ engagement in their learning implies a good understanding of the requirements of assessment (Carless 2015). This can be achieved by involving students in assessing each other’s work, refining criteria to align with requirements of a specific assessment task, and supporting programme level development of assessment criteria.
The requirements of assessment need to be clear to both students and lecturers. Such understanding is helped if there are clear principles underpinning assessment design, assessment feedback tools and resources that are shared and owned by all.
Price et al. (2012) identified three foundational aspects we need to consider:
- building a conceptual understanding of assessment (the basic principles of valid assessment and feedback practices);
- familiarity with the different technical approaches to assessment within a discipline (including assessment feedback skills and techniques);
- a sound grasp of the nature, meaning and level of assessment criteria and standards, including the ability to select and apply appropriate approaches and techniques to assessed tasks.
According to Evans (2016, p.15) in order to support assessment literacy, we should:
- Clarify what the assessment is and how it is organised. Explain the principles underpinning the design of assessment so that students can understand the relevance and value of it.
- Provide explicit guidance to students on the requirements of each assessment (e.g. clarification of assessment criteria; learning outcomes; good academic practice)
- Clarify with students the different forms, sources, and timings of feedback available, including e-learning opportunities
- Clarify the role of the student in the feedback process as an active participant (seeking, using, and giving feedback to self and peers; developing networks of support), and not just as a receiver of feedback
- Provide opportunities for students to work with assessment criteria and to work with examples of work at different grade levels in order to understand ‘what constitutes good.
Tools to enhance Assessment Literacy
Evans has created the EAT (©Evans Assessment Tool – 2016). It demonstrates a research-informed integrated and holistic approach to assessment. This tool has evolved from extensive research on assessment feedback (Evans, 2013) and use in practice within higher education institutions (HEIs) (e.g. the Researching Assessment Practices group at the University of Southampton). EAT is also informed by:
- the RADAR dimensions model (Education Quality Enhancement team, University of Exeter);
- the Viewpoints project, (Ulster, 2008-2012);
- the QAA Quality Code, UK;
- the HEA framework for Transforming Assessment in Higher Education.
EAT includes three core dimensions of practice:
- Assessment Literacy
- Assessment Feedback
- Assessment Design
Each dimension has 3 decision-making cards:
- lecturer/ teacher focused
- student focused
- programme/ director questions
According to the EAT, and in terms of Assessment Literacy (Evans 2016, p.4), you need to:
- Clarify what constitutes good
- Clarify how assessment elements fit together
Building on the work of Ramaprasad (1989) and Sadler (1989) about the role of feedback in bridging the gap between a student’s current and ideal level of performance, an individual needs to have a clear understanding of what good is, and the different ways of achieving good. A key question is do module / programme teams have a shared understanding of what constitutes ‘good’ and how you achieve this shared understanding?
It is important that students are able to self-manage the requirements of assessment and part of this is being clear about how the overall assessment design fits together. It is essential for students to map what they think the assessment design is, and to agree, confirm, and revisit how all elements of assessment fit together with the support of lecturers at regular intervals. It is highly probable that individuals will perceive assessment and feedback guidance and design in different ways. A key question is how is a shared understanding of how all aspects of assessment fit together achieved? Time devoted to this at the start of a programme is invaluable.
- Clarify student entitlement
- Clarify the requirements of the discipline
In supporting students to self-manage their assessment journeys it is important to make it clear what support is available and when. What are the boundaries regarding support and what is the student role in this process? Feedback should be seen as a highly valuable and rationed resource, and students should be supported to make best use of the opportunities available to them; this requires careful preparation and management of timelines and professional protocols in order to get the best out of feedback. The student role in supporting the learning process as active feedback givers as well as receivers of feedback should be stressed. Module and programme leads need to agree and clarify with students from the outset what student engagement in assessment involves and what the protocols are.
To support student retention and successful learning outcomes, students need to be able to identify with, and meet the requirements of their specific disciplines (Bluicet al., 2011); they need to feel part of the disciplinary community. It is important for teams to agree and clarify with students what the core concepts and threshold concepts (those that may prove difficult) within a discipline are, and what are the most appropriate strategies to support their understanding of these difficult concepts. The need to define what constitutes a ‘deep approach’ within the discipline is of paramount importance along with approaches to induct students into the discipline, and to clarify with students what the signature pedagogy of the discipline is.
Features of student feedback literacy
Carless and Boud (2018) proposed a set of inter-related features that serve as a framework underpinning student feedback literacy.
Students with well-developed feedback literacy:
appreciate their own active role in feedback processes;
- are continuously developing capacities in making sound judgments about academic work;
- manage affect in positive ways.
These three features are inter-related as represented in the figure below by bi-directional arrows. It is proposed that a combination of the three features at the top of the figure maximises potential for students to take action as illustrated at the base of the figure.
Feedback literate students:
- understand and appreciate the role of feedback in improving work and the active learner role in these processes;
- recognise that feedback information comes in different forms and from different sources;
- use technology to access, store and revisit feedback.
Feedback literate students:
- develop capacities to make sound academic judgments about their own work and the work of others;
- participate productively in peer feedback processes;
- refine self-evaluative capacities over time in order to make more robust judgments.
Feedback literate students:
- maintain emotional equilibrium and avoid defensiveness when receiving critical feedback;
- are proactive in eliciting suggestions from peers or teachers and continuing dialogue with them as needed;
- develop habits of striving for continuous improvement on the basis of internal and external
Feedback literate students:
- are aware of the imperative to take action in response to feedback information;
- draw inferences from a range of feedback experiences for the purpose of continuous improvement;
- develop a repertoire of strategies for acting on feedback.
Learning-centred framework for feedback literacy
Molloy, Boud & Henderson (2020) recommend shifting feedback to a learning-centred process and designed a Student Feedback Literacy Framework. This study progresses the work by Carless and Boud (2018) by incorporating a student perspective on what it means to engage in feedback that works.
It provides elaboration of items identified and points to areas in which their work did not venture. In particular, the new framework enables us to articulate the role of learners in actively seeking information, making judgements themselves, recognising feedback as a reciprocal process, and using information for the benefit of their future work.
The framework sets the ground for students to see what feedback competencies they need to develop and to monitor their progress towards these targets. For educators the framework may help to diagnose the quality of feedback interventions based on their ability to influence student achievements.
Learning-centred framework for feedback literacy
A learner exhibits well developed feedback literacy when:
Commits to feedback as improvement
1. Establishes a disposition to use feedback to continually improve their work
2. Acknowledges that mastery/expertise is not fixed, but can change over time and context
Appreciates feedback as an active process
3. Acknowledges the role of feedback processes in improving work and refining judgements and learning strategies
4. Recognises that effective learners are active in identifying their own learning needs
5. Anticipates their own learning needs and communicates these to appropriate others
6. Understands the role of standards and criteria in judging the work of oneself and others
7. Identifies that they need to complete a feedback loop for information provided by others to be effective
8. Recognises that feedback should build capacity to develop their own evaluative judgment over time and over different learning outcomes
Elicits information to improve learning
9. Realises that feedback requires active elicitation and does not wait for others to provide unsolicited information
10. Uses a wide repertoire of strategies to elicit appropriate information from others to assist learning
11. Considers feedback from multiple sources – eg. teachers, trainers, peers, practitioners, consumers – to provide a different scope and opportunities for learning
12. Recognises that different stakeholders may have different perspectives, experience and levels of investment in the process
13. Engages in dialogue to elicit useful information about standards, criteria and the nature of good work
14. Seeks out exemplars as a way to make sense of standards of work
15. Seeks cues from the environment and the task itself that indicate the appropriateness of work
Processes feedback information
16. Identifies and utilises standards, criteria and exemplars
17. Recognises and interprets language peculiar to education containing important cues about the task or related outcomes
18. Selectively accepts and rejects views of others in coming to their own appraisals
19. Extracts key actionable information from others, which may require prompting for more detail or clarity
Acknowledges and works with emotions
20. Demonstrates volition and sensitivity in approaching suitable others to elicit suggestions and to continue dialogue with them as needed
21. Demonstrates openness to receiving comments from others without displaying defensiveness
22. Builds trust in facilitating honest and meaningful information exchanges with others
23. Recognises that feedback information comes in different modes with different capacities to mobilise emotions, eg. individual and group, written and through various other media, structured and informal
24. Manages the emotional challenges of receiving and sifting information which may be unwelcome
25. Considers the influence of high stakes assessment on the way learners might engage in candid dialogue about their own performance, eg. declaring their own deficiencies in performance may impact on grades, or desire to score well may reduce learners’ receptivity to feedback information
Acknowledges feedback as a reciprocal process
26. Recognises that they have roles as both user and provider of information and that skill in one role helps in the other
27. Composes useful information for others about the nature of their work
28. Exhibits cultural sensitivity through not assuming that others are likely to react in the same way as oneself in receiving and responding to information
Enacts outcomes of processing of feedback information
29. Responds to feedback information from others through goal-setting and planning how it might be utilised in future work
30. Analyses and records information in appropriate forms for the purposes of acting on it subsequently
31. Monitors their own progress to discern where feedback might be helpful and to influence the setting of new learning goals
Improving assessment in a comprehensive and sustainable way (plenary lecture)
Speaker: Sue Bloxham (25/01/2018)
Teaching and Learning Conference & Drapers’ Lecture 2018 (Rethinking Assessment and Feedback)
We now have a wealth of knowledge about more effective, engaging and fair assessment in higher education but much practice remains profoundly resistant to change. Despite significant national funding and local initiatives, the potential power of assessment to foster student learning, improve engagement and reduce non-completion rates is often wasted – and student satisfaction remains low.
Most change initiatives have been at the level of individual academics in specific modules rather than at the more sustainable and influential level of the programme, department or institution. This talk will consider a framework for assessment change which recognises that many assessment interventions raise problematic and complex ideas made more difficult by the large and loosely-coupled nature of many Universities. It will use the themes of institutional infrastructure, assessment strategy and approaches to the professional learning of those involved with teaching and assessment to posit a range of practical interventions which, I hope, will stimulate conversation and ideas throughout the rest of the conference and beyond.
Assessment for learning: how might students and academics negotiate the teaching, grading and feedback cycle in an age of accountability?
Speaker: Pete Boyd (26/01/2016)
QMUL Teaching and Learning Conference 2016
Video available - https://youtu.be/_VGvR7pg3LA
Assessment matters: it shapes student approaches to learning. What experiences of assessment do undergraduates bring from their schooling and how do academics manage their continuing assessment experiences within the significant influence of quality assurance systems? In this keynote I will outline the paradigmatic ‘constructive alignment’ approach to assessment, which has been adopted so widely and enthusiastically by quality assurance agencies and universities. Informed by the growing body of research on assessment in higher education I will challenge this framework and suggest strategies that academics might use to mediate the unintended consequences for students of high accountability workplace contexts. My intention is that this keynote and the subsequent discussion will provoke your thinking and provide practical tools for development of assessment literacy and practice.
Carless, D. (2015) Excellence in University Assessment: Learning from award-winning practice. London: Routledge.
Carless, D. and Boud, D. (2018) The Development of Student Feedback Literacy: Enabling Uptake of Feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 43(8), 1315–1325. doi:10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354.
EAT (©Evans, 2016) Evans Assessment Tool: Implementing a research-informed integrated assessment framework. Southampton: University of Southampton, UK
Evans, C. (2016) Enhancing assessment feedback practice in higher education: The EAT framework. Southampton: University of Southampton, UK.
Molloy, E., Boud, D. & Henderson, M. (2020) Developing a learning-centred framework for feedback literacy, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45(4), 527-540, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2019.1667955
Price, M. (2016) Promoting students’ assessment literacy. Wise Assessment Briefing No. 7, Wise Assessment Forum.
Smith, C., Worsfold, K., Davies, L., Fisher, R. and McPhail, R. (2013) Assessment literacy and student learning: the case for explicitly developing students ‘assessment literacy’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(1), 44-60. DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2011.598636