Assessing Learning Outcomes

If there’s one universal consistent in student experience, it’s the propensity to judge a course on the assessment, as this is the most visible embodiment of learning outcomes, and usually one of the more stressful ways we can contribute to their life experience.  For Online by Design, there are opportunities to explore a wider range of assessable outcomes at different weighting that we may be able to do in offline spaces.  

For example, tutorial presentations conducted online can be second examined, re-marked and appeals to grades can be processed as the material is recorded and can be replayed.  Consequently, presentations could move from 10% in-class, to 20% Recorded Submission.   Participation grades, which are notoriously hard to judge, approve and regrade, shift into more quantifiable and observable against a rubric when the participation is text based in a forum.  That said, live video seminar participation grades (Zoom Participation) will still incur challenges of equity, access and regrading, although regrades can be attained through recorded sessions. 

Using the SAMR model, we can also look for ways to substitute, augment or modify learning outcomes assessment for example, a video vita discussion of course work can provide a whole new approach to assessing a knowledge outcome (Modification), a virtual workshop where students showcase the performance of a skill can replace a lab based exam (augment), and printed assignments became Turnitin submissions (Substitution).

Quick reminder: Summative v Formative

  • Summative assessment tasks are those items which count towards the student’s final grade, provide an accreditation of the attainment of learning outcomes, can be appealed and regraded, and usually sit at the end of a content block as a review of achievement.
  • Formative assessment tasks are those which uncover attained learning, and opportunities for further learning, through feedback, practice, and exploration. They are not graded, and since they’re not marked, they’re not open to appeal. 

In my experience of teaching commerce students, there is a marked predisposition to want to receive grades for effort with a very transactional focus on attainment. This is known phenomena across most business schools, as student on aggregate tend to be higher in direct transaction orientation in the pursuit of education that provides an accredited trade degree with job prospects, compared to students who are studying to explore a field of passion or interest. We get passionate accountants, but they’re not in the same numbers as arts, humanity and language students. 

Formative tasks are important for us as teachers to track performance in students prior to having to put marks against their names.  A strong uptake of formative task performance will also translate into a skewed distribution of grades, as the natural byproduct of learning happens to the maths of the results.  Using formative tasks may skew a cohort into a clear binary between those who have elected to engage in active learning, and those who skipped the formative in favour of not doing so well on the summative.  However, since we deal with adults making choices, we should respect those choices for them. 

A disadvantage to the formative task is that it takes time out of the 1 hour per student marking budget we have in each course.  Further, you need to match the formative task skill set to the summative task skill sets – training students in content recall through formative multiple choice does not translate well to essay exam questions. 

From a research perspective, formative items can be a viable and valuable source of insights into the domain area of the subject through the perspective of the many and varied life experiences of the student cohort.  You stand to learn about the area you’re teaching with the right application of reflective tasks.