Assessment for Learning (AfL) has been a key notion in recent curriculum developments in both secondary and tertiary education (see this link for previous left-handed biochemist posts on AfL).
The December 2011 edition of Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education featured a paper Does assessment for learning make a difference? The development of a questionnaire to explore the student response by Liz McDowell and colleagues from the recently-closed AfL CETL in Northumbria. Quoting AfL guru Paul Black, the authors point out that the definition of Assessment for Learning has become overly flexible, “a free brand name to attach to any practice,” before clarifying that for them AfL must encompass six dimensions:
- Formal feedback – e.g. from tutor comments or self-assessment
- Informal feedback – e.g. from peer interaction or dialogue with staff
- Practice – opportunity to try out skills and rehearse understanding
- Authenticity – assessment tasks must have real-life relevance
- Autonomy – activities must help students develop independence
- Summative/Formative balance – involves an appropriate mix of both tasks that are “for marks” and those that are not
The bulk of the paper describes the development and testing of a questionnaire used for evaluation of students’ experience of a module. The questionnaire, which can be downloaded from the AfL CETL website, could be used to provide evidence to justify curriculum change and/or to support the case for quality enhancement. Each of the questions maps to at least one of the six key dimensions.
In analysing the use of this research instrument to evaluate modules at their own institution, the authors highlighted three principal factors distinguishing AfL and non-AfL courses: staff support and module design; engagement with subject matter; and the role played by peer support. Overall they suggest that the student experience was more positive in modules where AfL approaches were employed.