Assessment and graduate attributes
Before explicitly tackling the link between graduate attributes and assessment, it is worthwhile briefly considering assessment more generally. An Australian Universities Teaching Committee research project entitled 'Assessing Learning in Australian Universities', and undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) at Melbourne University, developed the following indicators of effective assessment in higher education:
- Assessment is treated by staff and students as an integral and prominent component of the entire teaching and learning process rather than a final adjunct to it.
- The multiple roles of assessment are recognised. The powerful motivating effect of assessment requirements on students is understood and assessment tasks are designed to foster valued study habits.
- There is a faculty/departmental policy that guides individuals' assessment practices. Subject assessment is integrated into an overall plan for course assessment.
- There is a clear alignment between expected learning outcomes, what is taught and learnt, and the knowledge and skills assessed - there is a closed and coherent 'curriculum loop'.
- Assessment tasks assess the capacity to analyse and synthesis new information and concepts rather than simply recall information previously presented.
- A variety of assessment methods is employed so that the limitations of particular methods are minimised.
- Assessment tasks are designed to assess relevant generic skills as well as subject-specific knowledge and skills.
- There is a steady progression in the complexity and demands of assessment requirements in the later years of courses.
- There is provision for student choice in assessment tasks and weighting at certain times.
- Student and staff workloads are considered in the scheduling and design of assessment tasks.
- Excessive assessment is avoided. Assessment tasks are designed to sample student learning.
- Assessment tasks are weighted to balance the developmental ('formative') and judgemental ('summative') roles of assessment. Early low-stakes, low-weight assessment is used to provide students with feedback.
- Grades are calculated and reported on the basis of clearly articulated learning outcomes and criteria for levels of achievement.
- Students receive explanatory and diagnostic feedback as well as grades.
- Assessment tasks are checked to ensure there are no inherent biases that may disadvantage particular student groups.
- Plagiarism is minimised through careful task design, explicit education and appropriate monitoring of academic honesty (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002).
It should be clear that many of these assessment principles are associated with, and analogous to, the development of graduate attributes, i.e.:
- consideration of assessment should be a key element of the teaching and learning process, not an add-on/after-thought;
- assessment should be clearly connected to learning outcomes and learning activities, as part of the curriculum 'loop';
- assessment tasks should measure both generic and discipline specific attributes; and
- assessment complexity should progress across the duration of the program.
Designing a program curriculum to expose students to a range of learning activities intended to develop certain graduate attributes is a necessary step, but, in itself, does not ensure that students have actually developed the desired attributes. One element of such an assurance is including assessment tasks that seek to measure the student's attainment of the desired attribute(s). Of course, the assessment task activity itself is normally a key adjunct to curriculum content in the development of graduate attributes, providing an opportunity for students to operationalise theories and practise skills. Returning to the engineering example cited previously, we can see the logical link between program/unit learning objectives and assessment:
From (Jolly, 2001)
Is assessment an integral part of the development of graduate attributes for the program(s) that you contribute to? What is the role of assessment in the development of graduate attributes?
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