(CS EdX Sessions) Linden, Gonzalez, Van der Ploeg & Hicks

Title: Embedding Early Assessment Items for Successful Student Transition

Presenter(s): Kelly Linden, Prue Gonzalez, Neil Van der Ploeg, Ben Hicks

Faculty of Science & HEPP Retention Team

Type: Paper Presentation

When: Wednesday, November 18th 2020 @ 12pm – 1pm

Where: https://charlessturt.zoom.us/j/62699415190

Abstract: Well-designed early assessment tasks can assist students to make a successful transition into university, both socially and academically. Early assessment items can facilitate students’ learning, build confidence, and provide feedback to students and staff on students’ progress. But what makes an effective early assessment item? How do we design assessments that align with learning outcomes, discipline content, program requirements and future practice, while also supporting the transition of our diverse student body into the complex world of academia? Participants are encouraged to share their diverse experiences of early assessment items as part of the ongoing assessment revolution in higher education. 

There is an ongoing assessment revolution in higher education, influenced by the increasingly complex global environment within which the higher education sector operates (Deneen & Boud, 2014; Hattie, 2009).  The massification of the higher education sector has seen student numbers increase dramatically, with many of these students coming from non-traditional backgrounds, who may require high levels of assessment scaffolding and support as they begin their transition to academia (Boud & Associates, 2010; Van Schalkwyk, 2010). 

Perhaps more than any part of the student learning experience, assessment practices have the ability to enhance and reveal the quality of students’ learning (Deneen & Boud, 2014).  An early assessment item is a low stakes assessment submitted prior to census date. Early assessment tasks encourage students to engage with course content, and are common practice in first year courses in higher education.

But what makes an effective early assessment item? How do we design assessments that align with learning outcomes, discipline content, course requirements and future practice, while also supporting the transition of our diverse student body into the complex world of academia? And how do we support the teaching and learning process in the crucial, early period of study?

Charles Sturt University is currently trialing different approaches to student retention and engagement in first year subjects as part of the creation of an institution-wide student retention policy. One approach being trialed is the use of early assessment items as a means of identifying students who are not engaging early, and who may need additional support.

Of the 112 first year, first session subjects we found much variation in the format, design and implementation of the first assessment item, although some clear patterns emerged. The more ‘conventional assessment practices’ such as multiple choice tests (33.4%) and essays (21.4%) were common forms of early assessment items, with a sharp drop to the next commonly used formats: reports and attendance (7.1%), forum posts (3.6%) and presentations (0.9%). Even when we consider discipline differences in assessment practices, the more conventional assessment practices are still commonly used.

Is the reliance on ‘conventional assessment practices’ as early assessment items problematic? Do multiple choice tests and essays assist our students to make a successful transition to university?  And what of alternative assessment practices?  The assessment revolution we are now seeing includes not just a re-envisioning of the purpose of assessment, but also the format of assessment (Hattie, 2009).  The assessment ‘pool’ is now brimming with new assessment methods. However, each assessment method needs to be seen in terms that recognize its own strengths and its differences from other methods (Struyven et al., 2005). Context is everything.

So in the context of an early assessment item – an assessment item designed to engage and transition students into a discipline, into academia – what might the strengths and differences be? While the practice of incorporating early assessment items in higher education may be common – indeed recommended in policy and best practice – we have been faced with many questions around assessment format, purpose, design, support, timing, implementation and feedback provided to students.