Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER)

Seminar 3: Assessing New Times in HE

Date: Thursday July 2nd 2009, 10am - 4pm

 The power relations of HE assessment infuse learners' construction of new identities, yet as curricula change, a lack of synchronicity between how and what is being assessed can emerge. Summative assessment is often curiously separated from formative, and from learning, while technicist vocabularies and new technologies of measurement obscure the value-laden nature of assessment. Can we envision new and perhaps more integrated, innovative practices?  

Professsor Dylan Wiliam
Deputy Director
Professor of Educational Assessment
Institute of Education, University of London

Title: Design principles for effective assessment in Higher Education  

Abstract: Much of the debate about the improvement of systems of educational assessment focus on binaries. Is reliability more important than validity? Are constructed-response items better than multiple-choice items? Is teacher assessment better than externally-set tests and examinations? Is continuous assessment through coursework better than terminal examinations? In this talk, I will argue that as long as the debate is conducted in terms of such either/or issues, then progress will be slow, if not entirely absent. Rather, progress is to be made by mapping out the shades of grey between these extremes, understanding how each end of the spectrum is useful in helping us understand the spectrum, and the tensions we have to reconcile, but lethal as a goal in itself.

Biography: Prof Dylan Wiliam is Deputy Director of the Institute of Education, London. In a varied career, he has taught in urban public schools, directed a large-scale testing program, served a number of roles in university administration, including Dean of a School of Education, and pursued a research programme focused on supporting teachers to develop their use of assessment in support of learning.

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Dr. John Pryor and Dr. Barbara Crossouard
CHEER, University of Sussex

Title: Assessing New Times in Higher Education

Abstract: Over the last two decades the idea of learning as the acquisition and possession of knowledge by individuals has been increasingly questioned from many perspectives and discredited. Yet this assumption still underlies much of what goes on in universities and produces a depleted discourse of teaching and learning. In this article we work with a different set of assumptions. What if knowledge is an act of doing, an engagement between a knowing subject and what is known? What if learning is an ontological as well as an epistemological accomplishment, a contextualized performance where learners engage with prospective and current social identities? What if the differential personal risk that this involves is acknowledged? In this paper we begin to confront what becomes of formative assessment when we address the challenges these questions present.

Biography: Dr. John Pryor is a Reader in Education at the University of Sussex. He began his career as teacher in primary and secondary schools with a particular interest in development education. After a doctorate on gender and technology, John has worked as a research fellow and lecturer at Sussex. His research interests centre on aspects of social identity and equity in education including formative assessment and pedagogy, research training and the doctorate in the social sciences, and international and intercultural study. John has directed research projects in both the UK and sub Saharan Africa mostly of a broadly micro-sociological nature including collaborative ethnography and action research. He works within the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER) and the Centre for International Education (CIE).

Biography: Barbara Crossouard currently works as an Associate Tutor and Research Fellow in the Sussex School of Education and contributes to the work of the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER). Her doctoral study was conducted within the EU project 'Internet Based Assessment', directed at Sussex by John Pryor. This brought together formative assessment theory and practice, doctoral supervision, and digital learning environments. Theoretically, the study drew upon sociocultural learning theories, interwoven with poststructural understandings of identity and subjectivity. In 2008 she was awarded the Society for Research into Higher Education 'Newer Researcher' prize. This is supporting a small-scale study of the career trajectories of newly qualified researchers. She is also conducting research into the interaction of formative assessment and collaborative challenges in Scottish primary schools, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Her main research interest is educational assessment and the production of learner subjectivities.

John pryor and barbara crossouard paper - formative assessment [PDF 102.99KB]

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Dr. Tamsin Haggis
Institute of Education, University of Sterling

Title: How can we move forward when we know so little about where we have been? Questions about assessment from a five year longitudinal study.

Abstract: Education is an overt attempt to influence student to change their habits of thought and patterns of engagement. Whilst recent decades have witnessed a rhetorical shift from discourses of education to discourses of learning, this shift has arguably been stimulated more by a desire to better understand the effects of educators' activities than by a desire to embrace student articulations of the nature and purposes of learning. This paper will report on a longitudinal research study in higher education which was designed to explore such student articulations, in relation to both the texts that were produced for assessment, and the multiple contexts from which both texts and talk emerged. Using a theoretical and methodological framing based on complexity theories, the study attempts to both produce and analyse data in a way that tries to take account of aspects of phenomena that are usually largely beyond the reach of conventional research approaches and current trends. For example, although starting from a broadly social and collectivist position, the study attempts to explore the ways in which individuals within collectives experience participatory practices differentially, are differentially engaged, and produce differential results in terms of assessment outcomes. This is of particular relevance in the still-individually-assessed world of institutional learning, which is arguably quite different to the workplace learning contexts which have given rise to theories such as situated learning and activity theory. From a complexity perspective, however, information about differential engagement is only a small part of the kaleidoscope of interconnecting factors and contexts which work together to produce specific assessment outcomes. The analysis attempts to examine assessment outcomes as emergent effects which arise when the interactions of particular and multiple individual contexts intersect through time with the interactions of equally specific and multiple institutional situations.

The results of the study will be discussed in relation to some of the issues highlighted in the overview of the seminar series. For example, the assumption that digitisation can or will make education 'borderless', particularly in the light of the 'largely literary structure of the university's DNA'. The data will also be examined for evidence of 'the valuing of social and pedagogic diversity'. Questions will be raised about who may be excluded from the new generations now seen to be attributed with technological literacy, and the limitations of the idea that flexible access and support will solve current problems by 'accommodating a wide range of teaching and learning styles'.

Biography: Dr. Tamsin Haggis taught adult learners in Europe, India and Japan for 10 years before becoming involved in Higher Education. Since 1998 she has taught across a range of subjects in both Humanities and Social Sciences, as an Access tutor (Religions of South Asia), Learning Support tutor (Management), and Lecturer in Lifelong Learning on the Scottish Teaching Qualification (FE). Her research focuses on the different ways that learning is defined, researched and theorised, and attempts to bring diverse perspectives together in order to expand and challenge thinking about students and learning. Initially focussing on differences between research traditions in Adult and Higher Education, she is now attempting to make links across a much wider range of disciplinary areas through her use of complexity and dynamic systems theories. Tamsin is a co-investigator in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded research project 'Emerging Sustainability', a cross-disciplinary project involving Civil & Environmental Engineering, Architecture, Politics, Philosophy, Business, Health, and Geography, which is part of a connected series of projects focused on the theme of Emergence.

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Overall Discussion
At the end of the three sessions we conducted an overall discussion about the day's topics, papers, ideas, and where this discussion might lead in terms of future research.

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