“Assessment Matters” – Report on Professor Mark Russell’s guest lecture

A report from  23rd Oct 2013 at the University of Liverpool

“What would you do if you wanted to fail more students and or/provide them with a lousy experience”was the intriguingly provocative opening question Professor Mark Russell invited colleagues gathered in the Flexible Learning Space in the University’s Central Teaching Lab to discuss.

Of course, this discussion activity was designed to evidence just how important assessment is in curriculum design activity and it certainly inspired some quite animated debate, and led into the next discussion question, “What is working now?” in assessment practices across the University.

Dr James Gaynor, Chemistry, Univ. of Liverpool summarised the event:

“The Transforming Assessment Pilot Scheme (TAPS) workshop series is showcasing specific assessment and feedback techniques to support our core projects. Therefore we were delighted to welcome Prof. Mark Russell who fittingly started the series by talking about wider issues of assessment during his session, entitled “Assessment matters”; the numerous key resources offered by Mark are a great starting point for any colleagues who wish to develop their teaching (a key aim of the TAPS project). This interactive session then delved a little deeper and looked at ways of structuring assessment and feedback opportunities within modules using ‘rail track’ assessment patterns. This is a clear way to visualise the assessment journey and this was well received by colleagues, with subsequent TAPS presenters incorporating this idea into their presentations. Overall, this was an informative and enjoyable way to start the TAPS workshops series, which are continuing throughout the year. (If you are engaging in some interesting assessment and feedback techniques, and are interesting in sharing your methods, please contact James Gaynor on jwgaynor@liv.ac.uk).”

Professor Russell offers/proposes 4 guiding principles when considering assessment designs, which he concisely summarises in the video interview below.

[Click on the image above to link to the video – only available internally to University of Liverpool colleagues]

Mark’s team have distilled the range of research on good assessment for learning principles into six bullet points as a useful structure for time-pressed academics to consider:

Good assessment for learning principles - a summary of multiple theories
Good assessment for learning principles – a summary of multiple theories

I particularly liked the example given in which his team mined case studies and used track changes to highlight these good assessment for learning practices. This is the kind of example for institutional appreciative inquiry. Mark also challenged us to consider whether our university has any institutional assessment principles underpinning our teaching & learning practices. In his experience, a purposeful decision around having principles for the whole institution is beneficial.

Mark, from the ESCAPE project’s work, offered us guides which got academic staff map their assessment practices and patterns in visual form (see these resources as assessment timelines ). These tools offer practical advice and strategies that many of the busy teaching staff attending could relate to, pick up and use – please do check them out.

In the workshop following the lecture, we were asked to rate 20 challenges on assessment, which created good conversations and we felt that this activity could be used with students in their first academic advisor meetings.

Mark got us into thoughtful conversations around assessment, nicely setting the scene for the TAPS project. He was also very impressed with the people at Liverpool and energy in the room and the magnitude of the Central Teaching Laboratory as an excellent teaching space.

What did you take away from the lecture or workshop? Please add in the comment below.

Tünde Varga-Atkins with James Gaynor; Photos: Phil Walker

Resources, links

Link to ESCAPE project resources in the Design Studio

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