Posted by: MandyS | August 2, 2014

The principles of Assessment for Learning

I found a few of points of interest in reading Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box (Assessment Reform Group, 1999). Firstly, formative assessment is obviously a key component of assessment for learning, both for tutor and student. Being able to assess progress step-by-step can highlight problems early when there is still time to resolve them. Back in 1996, assessment as a learning tool was underutilised; I am unable to comment about secondary teaching but certainly in terms of W201 this is still the case. It may be that it is law or it may be the way in which the module is delivered but there appears to be a distinct lack of formative assessment for W201. Yes students can access interactive quizzes via Elite and it is suggested they complete a learning outcomes grid at the end of each unit, but whilst this encourages student self-assessment, there is no input from the tutors; our role is purely with summative assessment i.e. marking TMA’s and offering support when asked.

Secondly, whilst the principles can apply across the educational sphere, I was struck by the fact that some of the suggestions of how to integrate assessment for learning would be difficult to apply in the distance learning arena. For example, observing and questioning in lessons is not something W201 tutors have the benefit of being able to do. Yes, it is a possibility for face-to-face tutorials but I am not alone when I say that attendance is low and it is generally only the committed students that attend, who generally require less help, rather than those that would benefit from tutor input. Although the law programme sets tasks by way of activities in the unit materials, the students have no way of sharing their thoughts either with the tutor or their cohort. Again, the committed might venture onto the forums but usually only for querying administrative issues. Others take to Facebook but without tutor input there is no-one to correct their mistakes.

Finally, I wonder about tutor awareness. The ideal is that tutor’s be ‘skilled assessors of student learning’. The majority of law tutors are practitioners, solicitors or barristers, who have excellent knowledge about module content but perhaps little experience of teaching. Yes, we are ‘trained’ in how to mark the TMA’s, advised about good and bad feedback and our marking is monitored but skills here can vary considerably and, from experience, tutor commitment can vary considerably. That said, as formative assessment has no place yet in W201, I doubt assessment for learning will become an integral part of tutor teaching strategies and practices any time soon.

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