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Report on the Association for Educational Assessment conference

13 November 2012

Dr Rosalind Duhs, Senior School-Facing Teaching Fellow in the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT), discusses the main ideas to have emerged at an assessment-themed conference held in Berlin last week.

Students working together on a bench

Conference Theme: Assessment across the Lifespan

This conference took place around the 23rd anniversary of the end of the Berlin Wall leading to the reunification of Germany, and also, as one of my German colleagues pointed out to me, the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1938.

A number of issues of interest to UCL were raised. Research into the assessment of key skills, e-portfolios and the disconnect between policy and its implementation in educational settings were particularly relevant to our work.

The theme of assessing across the lifespan led to a focus on ‘sustainable assessment’. This is a fruitful concept because it conveys the need to approach assessment in ways which make it significant not only for the testing of recently acquired (and often quickly forgotten) declarative (factual) knowledge but also for the assessment of complex skills such as collaborative working.

Assessing key skills

Esther Care, University of Melbourne, presented an impressive study of work across continents. Collaboration, communication, and problem-solving were all developed and could also be assessed. In one example, students had problem-solving tasks to complete. They had different pieces of information to draw on, all necessary to find a solution. Collaboration was essential. Communication via chat enabled students to work toward solving the problem. The example shown was in Physics but it would be possible to use this technique to solve a range of problems in different disciplines. This was a true example of the internationalisation of the curriculum as the online environment made it possible to communicate with students from different cultures with divergent perspectives and approaches. The chat could then be analysed to see how well students had communicated and supported each other during the problem-solving process.

Widening participation across generations

Richard Desjardins (OECD) presented research on ageing and skills. His presentation fitted in well with my own, a small survey which suggests that challenging study may protect against cognitive decline.


Christopher Deneen, University of Hong Kong, presented his research on students’ frustration at using Mahara for e-portfolios. The presentation indicated that clear instructions to students, not only of the task and its parameters, but also on how to use the software, were essential. Students need to know why innovative approaches to assessment are worthwhile.

Policy implementation

Maria Florez (Oxford University) won the young researcher’s prize at the conference. Her presentation was inspiring. She revealed ‘a series of inconsistencies between the discourses of different actors’ (AEA 2012 Conference handbook p.28) involved in the implementation of assessment reform. She concluded that it was essential to ‘rethink assessment reform processes from a broader perspective’, taking account of historical, systemic and ideological dimensions.

Further information

Page last modified on 13 nov 12 11:44

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