How we designed the assessment for an Arts & Sciences (BASc) core module
Thomas Kador explains how assessment diversity amplifies value of object-based learning
22 May 2018
With four museums open to the public and several other prized heritage, literary and art collections as well as a growing digital library at its disposal, UCL enjoys a unique position from which to explore object-based learning in its teaching
The value of object-based learning is strongly linked to pedagogies of active and experiential learning, which sees hands-on engagement with the object of study as key to personal meaning-making and the long-term retention of ideas.
But how can assessment practice augment this learning?
Dr Thomas Kador leads a second year core module in UCL’s Arts and Sciences (BASc) degree, Object Lessons: Communicating knowledge through collections, which is built around object based learning methodology and is notable for the diverse ways students are assessed.
So how did he approach designing the assessment for the module?
"We adopted a ‘backward design’* approach - that is, we started with the learning outcomes and looked at how best to assess each of them in turn. Then we went back to decide how to help the students – through lectures, seminars and exercises for self-guided study – to acquire the skills they need to successfully complete the assessments.
Having said that, the assessments are not set in stone and every year we engage in dialogue with our students to make sure the assessments are as effective as they can be. This has led to several changes to the assessments and the introduction of a formative student journal, which allows us to provide very quick feedback on their progress.
We also have excellent ongoing support from our colleagues at the Arena Centre and especially Digital Education, who are specialising in multi-modal (i.e. non-text based) assessments.
- Read a blog post by Dr Thomas Kador on Developing outward-facing assessments through staff-student partnerships
What are the benefits of introducing a range of assessment methods?
The benefits are increasingly recognised, both for promoting inclusivity in diverse cohorts and for the proven enhancement of learning. With good planning, a range of assessment methods can also reduce administrative workload. The impact of modularisation has often resulted in an increase in assessment and lack of cohesion at the programme level.
The Arena Centre for Research-based Education encourages programme teams to do a TESTA audit (Transforming the Experience of Students Through Assessment) of how students experience assessment across the programme so that the team can discuss patterns of over assessment, bunching of assessment, varieties of assessment, amount and quality of feedback, timeliness of feedback.
What types of assessment are used in Object Lessons?
At the start of the module, each student is assigned an object from the UCL collections and asked to investigate it. For the first assessment (40%), each student produces a book chapter about their object, focusing on its history, material or symbolic meaning, undertaking research, talking to the curators and so on.
During their research, students participate in formative assessment by writing a weekly journal entry about their object, and receive feedback from their tutors.
The second assessment is a group project culminating in a virtual group exhibition and a 30 minute presentation. The students collaborate in groups of 5 or 6 to create an online exhibition that connects their objects with a common theme. The students are assessed within their groups by each other (10%), and their presentation is assessed by tutors, as well as by peers from other student groups (5%).
To help develop their assessment literacy in preparation for assessing their peers, students were given a session on marking criteria.
What do students think about assessment diversity?
Sol Dieguez, one of the students on this year’s module, was enthusiastic about the variety of assessment. She said:
"There’s definitely more variety, more of a conversation … it was really great to have so many points where you could be told where you could improve or what was already great rather than other modules where perhaps I have one essay and everything’s about that essay and you don’t have a formative assessment."
What do students think about peer assessment?
Thomas Kador said:
"We understand that peer assessment is contentious for some people, but engaging in an open dialogue with the students on the nature and purpose of this approach invariably results in an overwhelming supportive attitude towards it. There is also a growing community of colleagues within UCL who can offer help with designing peer assessments, such as the IPAC consortium. Apart from helping to make fairer the assessment of group work, and in particular how students contribute, asking students to employ the marking criteria on one another means that they will acquire a much better understanding of how they are being assessed themselves."
- Read more about the IPAC Consortium (Individual Peer Assessed Contribution of group work)
Find out what Sol Dieguez thought about the module and her assessment in this short film ( 6 mins 17)
Reference: *Wiggins, G., McTighe, J. (2010) Understanding by Design: A brief introduction. Center for Technology & School Change at Teachers College, Columbia University.