Simplifying Assessment Alignment

November 22, 2016

Some recent work with programme designers in other UK institutions suggests to me that quality assurance and enhancement measures continue to be appended to the policies and practices carried out in UK HEIs rather than seeing a revitalising redesign of the entire design and approval process.

This is a shame because it has produced a great deal of work for faculty in designing and administering programmes and modules, not least when it comes to assessment. Whatever you feel about intended learning outcomes (ILOs) and their constraints or structural purpose, there is nearly universal agreement that the purpose of assessment is not to assess students ‘knowledge of the content’ on a module. Rather the intention of assessment is to demonstrate higher learning skills, most commonly codified in the intended learning outcomes. I have written elsewhere about the paucity of writing effective ILOs and focusing them almost entirely the cognitive domain (intellectual skills), with the omission of other skill domains notably the effective (professional skills) and the psychomotor (transferable skills). Here I want to identify the need for close proximity between ILOs and assessment criteria.

It seems to me that well-designed intended learning outcomes lead to cogent assessment design. They also suggest that the use of a transparent marking rubric, used by both markers and students, creates a simpler process.

To illustrate this I wanted to share two alternative approaches to aligning assessment to the outcomes of a specific module. In order to preserve the confidentiality of the module in question some elements have been omitted but hopefully the point will still be clearly made.

Complex Attempt to Assessment Alignment

Complex Assessment AlignmentI have experienced this process in several Universities.

  1. Intended Learning Outcomes are written (normally at the end of the ‘design’ process)
  2. ILOs are mapped to different categorizations of domains, Knowledge & Understanding, Intellectual Skills, Professional Skills and Attitudes, Transferable Skills.
  3. ILOs are mapped against assessments, sometimes even mapped to subject topics or weeks.
  4. Students get first sight of the assessment.
  5. Assessment Criteria are written for students using different categories of judgement: Organisation, Implementation, Analysis, Application, Structure, Referencing, etc.
  6. Assessment Marking Schemes are then written for assessors. Often with guidance as to what might be expected at specific threshold stages in the marking scheme.
  7. General Grading Criteria are then developed to map the schemes outcomes back to the ILOs.

 

Streamlined version of aligned assessment

streamlined marking rubric

I realise that this proposed structure is not suitable for all contexts, all educational levels and all disciplines. Nonetheless I would advocate that this is the optimal approach.

  1. ILO are written using a clear delineation of domains; Knowledge, Cognitive (Intellectual), Affective (Values) and Psychomotor (Skills). These use appropriate verb structures tied directly to appropriate levels. This process is explained in this earlier post.
  2. A comprehensive marking rubric is then shared with both students and assessors. It identifies all of the ILOs that are being assessed. In principle we should only be assessing the ILOs in UK Higher Education NOT content. The rubric will differentiate the type of responses expected to achieve varies grading level.
    • There is an option to automatically sum grades given against specific outcomes or to take a more holistic view.
    • It is possible to weight specific ILOs as being worth more marks than others.
    • This approach works for portfolio assessment but also for a model of assessment where there are perhaps two or three separate pieces of assessment assuming each piece is linked to two or three ILOs.
    • Feedback is given against each ILO on the same rubric (I use Excel workbooks)

I would suggest that it makes sense to use this streamlined process even if it means rewriting your existing ILOs. I’d be happy to engage in debate with anyone about how best to use the streamlined process in their context.


Using Learning Design to Unleash the Power of Learning Analytics

December 4, 2015

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Atkinson, S.P. (2015). Using Learning Design to Unleash the Power of Learning Analytics. In T. Reiners, B.R. von Konsky, D. Gibson, V. Chang, L. Irving, & K. Clarke (Eds.), Globally connected, digitally enabled. Proceedings ascilite 2015 in Perth (pp. 358-364 / CP:6-CP:10).


 

A very enjoyable presentation made this week at ascilite 2015 in Perth, Australia. Wonderful to engage with this vibrant and hospitable community. Amongst some fascinating presentations exploring the theoretical and information management dimension of learning analytics and academic analytics, my very foundational work on constructively aligned curricula and transparency in design was I believe welcomed.

I said in my paper that I believed “New learning technologies require designers and faculty to take a fresh approach to the design of the learner experience. Adaptive learning, and responsive and predicative learning systems, are emerging with advances in learning analytics. This process of collecting, measuring, analysing and reporting data has the intention of optimising the student learning experience itself and/or the environment in which the experience of learning occurs… it is suggested here that no matter how sophisticated the learning analytics platforms, algorithms and user interfaces may become, it is the fundamentals of the learning design, exercised by individual learning designers and faculty, that will ensure that technology solutions will deliver significant and sustainable benefits. This paper argues that effective learning analytics is contingent on well structured and effectively mapped learning designs.

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Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes

July 18, 2015

We hear much about the changing world of work and how slow higher and professional education is to respond. So in an increasingly competitive global market of Higher Apprenticeships and work-based learning provision I began to take a particular interest in students’ ‘graduateness’. What had begun as an exploratory look for examples of intended learning outcomes (ILO) with ’employability’ in mind ended up as this critical review published in an article entitled ‘Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes’ in the journal called  Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

I randomly identified 20 UK institutions, 80 undergraduate modules and examined their ILOs. This resulted in 435 individual ILOs being taken by students in current modules (academic year 2014-2015) across different stages of their undergraduate journey (ordinarily in the UK this takes place over three years through Levels 4,5 and 6). This research reveals the lack of specificity of ILOs in terms of skills, literacies and graduates attributes that employers consistently say they want from graduates

The data in the table below from the full paper which describes the post-analysis attribution of ILOs to domains of educational objectives (see paper for methodology) which I found rather surprising. The first surprise was the significant percentage of ILOs which are poorly structured, given the weight of existing practice guidance and encouragement for learning designers and validators (notably from the UK Higher Education Academy and the UK Quality Assurance Agency). Some 94 individual ILOs (21.6%) had no discernible active verbs in their construction.  64 ILOs (14.7%) did not contain any meaningful verbs so could not be mapped to any educational domain. This included the infamous ‘to understand’ and ‘to be aware of’. So as a result only 276 ILOs (64%) were deemed ‘well-structured’ and were then mapped against four domains of educational objectives.

Table 8.          Post-analysis attribution of ILOs to Domains of Educational Objectives

  Level 4 Level 5 Level 6 Total
Knowledge(Subject Knowledge) 14 5 11 30
Cognitive (Intellectual Skills) 46 91 61 198
Affective(Professional Skills) 1 4 1 6
Psychomotor(Practical/Transferable Skills) 12 18 13 43
No Verbs 35 32 27 94
Not classifiable 23 30 11 64
Totals 131 180 125 435

Remember what I had been originally looking for were examples of ILOs that represented skills that the literature on employability and capabilities suggested should be there. These could have been anticipated to be those in the affective or psychomotor domains.

So it was rather surprising to see that of the 64% of the full sample that was codeable,  sizeable percentage were cognitive (45.4%), a relatively small percentage fell into the psychomotor domain (9.8%), even less into the knowledge domain (6.8%) and a remarkably small number could be deemed affective (1.4%).

I say remarkable because the affective domain, sometimes detailed as personal and professional skills, are very much the skills that employers (and most graduates) prize above all else. These refer to the development of values and the perception of values, including professionalism, inter-personal awareness, timeliness, ethics, inter-cultural sensitivity, and diversity and inclusivity issues.

Apparently despite all the sterling work going on in our libraries and career services, employment-ready priorities within programmes and modules in higher education, are not integrated with teaching and learning practices. I suggest that as a consequence, this makes it difficult for students to extract, from their learning experience within modules, the tangible skill development required of them as future employees.

There is an evident reliance by module designers on the cognitive domain most commonly associated at a lower level with ‘knowing and understanding’ and at a higher level as ‘thinking and intellectual skills’. The old favourite ‘to critically evaluate’ and ‘to critically analyse’ are perennial favourites.

There is much more to the picture than this single study attempts to represent but I think it is remarkable not more attention is being paid to the affective and psychomotor domains in module creation.

More analysis, and further data collection will be done, to explore the issue at programme level and stage outcomes (is it plausible that module ILOs are simply not mapped and unrelated and all is well at programme level). I would also be interested to explore the mapping of module and programme ILOs to specified graduate attributes that many institutions make public.

I go on in the full paper about the relative balance of different ILOs in each of the domains depending on the nature of the learning, whether it is a clinical laboratory module or a fieldwork module or a literature-based module.

The reason I think this is important, and I have written here before, that this important (it is about semantics!), is that students are increasingly demanding control over their choices, their options, the shape of their portfolios, their ‘graduateness’, and they need to be able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and make meaningful modules choices to modify the balance of the skills acquired in a ’practical’ module compared with those in a ‘cerebral’ one. I conclude that the ability to consciously build a ‘skills profile’ is a useful graduate attribute in itself…. which incidentally would be an affective ILO.

You can download the full paper here LINK.

Also available on ResearchGate and Academia.edu

Full citation:
Atkinson, S. 2015 Jul 9. Graduate Competencies, Employability and Educational Taxonomies: Critique of Intended Learning Outcomes. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education [Online] 10:2. Available: http://community.dur.ac.uk/pestlhe.learning/index.php/pestlhe/article/view/194/281


Enhancements to the SOLE Tookit – now version 3.5

May 31, 2015

I have no idea what the protocol is for naming versions of things. I imagine, like me, someone has an idea of what the stages are going to look like, when a truly fresh new is going to happen. For me I have a sense that version 4.0 of the SOLE Toolkit will incorporate what I am currently learning about assessment and ‘badges’, self-certification and team marking. But for now I’m not there yet and am building on what I have learnt about student digital literacies so I will settle for Version 3.5.

This version of the SOLE Toolkit, 3.5, remains a completely free, unprotected and macro-free Excel workbook with rich functionality to serve the learning designer. In version 3.0 I added more opportunities for the student to use the toolkit as an advanced organiser offering ways to record their engagement with their learning. It also added in some ability to sequence learning so that students could plan better their learning although I maintained this was guidance only and should allow students to determine their own pathways for learning.

Version 3.5 has two significant enhancements. Firstly, it introduces a new dimension, providing a rich visualization of the learning spaces and tools that students are to engage with in their learning. This provides an alternative, fine-grain, view of the students modes of engagement in their learning. It permits the designer to plan not only for a balance of learning engagement but also a balance of environments and tools. This should allow designers to identify where ‘tool-boredom’ or ‘tool-weariness’ is possibly a danger to learner motivation and to ensure that a range of tools and environments allow students to develop based on their own learning preferences.

Secondly, it allows for a greater degree of estimation of staff workload, part of the original purpose of the SOLE Model and Toolkit project back in 2009. This faculty-time calculations in design and facilitating are based on the learning spaces and tools to be used. This function allows programme designers and administrators, as well as designers themselves, to calculate the amount of time they are likely to need to design materials and facilitate learning around those materials.

I invite you to explore the SOLE Toolkit on the dedicated website for the project and would welcome any comments of feedback you might have.


Visualisation of Educational Taxonomies

August 22, 2013

Sharing a paper today on the visualisation of educational taxonomies. I have finally got around to putting into a paper some of the blog postings, discussion, tweets and ruminations of recent years on educational taxonomies. I am always struck in talking to US educators (and faculty training teachers in particular) of the very direct use made of Bloom’s original 1956 educational taxonomy for the cognitive domain. They seem oblivious however to other work that might sit
(conceptually) alongside Bloom is a way to support their practice.

http://www.academia.edu/4289077/Taxonomy_Circles_Visualizing_the_possibilities_of_intended_learning_outcomes

In New Zealand, whilst at Massey I got into some fascinating discussions with education staff about the blurring of the affective and cognitive domains, significant in cross-cultural education, and this led me to look for effective representations of domains. I came across an unattributed circular representation that made instant sense to me, and set about mapping other domains in the same way. In the process I found not only a tool that supported and reinforced the conceptual framework represented by Constructive Alignment, but also a visualising that supported engagement with educational technologies and assessment tools. I hope this brief account is of use to people and am, as always, very open to feedback and comment.

I’m very grateful to those colleagues across the globe who have expressed interest in using these visual representations and hope to be able to share some applicable data with everyone in due course.


Re-visioning Learning Spaces: Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces

May 16, 2013
Published a short working paper today entitled “Re-visioning Learning Spaces: Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces“. In July I’ll be running some face-to-face workshops to explore the ideas in the paper and there will be a version two.
New build and refurbishments of educational spaces can be significant financial commitments and often represent ‘flagship’ investments for many universities.  However, apart from their marketing brochure appeal and the contemporary feel good factor for current students of ‘being there’, we should question whether they are really supporting effective learning.  This paper advocates that truly effective spaces need to be more closely associated with the particular learning contexts one is seeking to enrich.  Re-visioning our learning spaces requires universities to create and engage with a conceptual model of the learner and faculty, to develop not just new spaces but support for new roles within those spaces. The SOLE model is presented as a conceptual framework through which new spaces and new faculty roles are considered.
Paper can be downloaded at Academia.edu or direct from BPP University College pages (ISBN – 9781 4453 5457 6 / Publication Date: May 2013)

Kaupapa Māori and the Pragmatic Pill

March 30, 2013

I delivered a webinar recently on technology enhanced learning. It was a 90-minute session (possibly too long) in Adobe Connect attended by some 15 faculty. Several of the evaluation comments suggested that the first third of the webinar, dealing with shared understandings of terminology and a history of the subject under discussion, was unnecessary, superfluous. I’m struck by how often in my current practice in British higher education that the contextualisation of what we do is often treated as a luxury. Pragmatism pervades everything and there is an assumption that we all know where we are, we all know what needs to be done, and the objective is simply to do it. Universities have often been accused of being ivory towers, places where people ruminate detached from reality, but there must surely be a place for a pause and a thought.

Rongomaraeroa - Te Papa's Marae

Rongomaraeroa – Te Papa’s Marae (Authors Photo 2005)

Perhaps the reason I reacted with some discomfort to the suggestion that the historical context to a discussion of technology enhanced learning was superfluous has to do with the reactions I get from colleagues on another project currently underway. The POISE project, part of the HEA Internationalisation change initiative, stands for personal orientation to international student experience. The original idea had been to establish to support individuals to identify their own epistemological assumptions, students and staff, in order that a more meaningful dialogue about adjusting to higher education study might be possible. But whilst the stress of the original project was on personal orientation the realities of implementation in the British HE context consistently stresses the student experience, the here and now, today’s problem being dealt with by today’s student support person. There is a sense in which holistic medicine, whole person medicine, has been replaced by the liberal prescription of the pragmatic pill.

I found myself turning back to the concept, the principles, of Kaupapa Māori. I am not Māori, and so these principles are necessarily engaged with at an intellectual and emotional level rather than from within, based on three periods of working in New Zealand since 1998. In 1990 Graham Hingangaroa Smith outlined six principles of Kaupapa Māori within the context of education, its implementation and research. Other theorists have expanded these concepts further in the years since. This is an evolving body of a communities’ intellectual, spiritual and inter-personal exploration of identity. In a very real sense this is ‘identity-work’. It is something we appear to do very little of in the British ‘academy’.

Kaupapa Māori principles include (but are not limited to):

Tino Rangatiratanga – The Principle of Self-determination: to sovereignty, autonomy, control, self-determination and independence, allowing for and advocating Maori control over their own culture, aspirations and destiny.

Taonga Tuku Iho – The Principle of Cultural Aspiration: asserting the centrality and legitimacy of Te Reo Māori (language), Tīkanga (customary practices, ethics, cultural behaviours) and Mātauranga Māori (wisdom).

Ako Māori – The Principle of Culturally Preferred Pedagogy: acknowledging Māori teaching and learning practices and learning preferences.

Kia piki ake i ngā raruraru o te kainga – The Principle of Socio-Economic Mediation: the need to positively alleviate the disadvantages experienced by Māori communities.

Whānau – The Principle of Extended Family Structure: acknowledges the relationships that Māori have to one another and to the world around them. Core to Kaupapa Māori and key elements of Māori society and culture, acknowledging the responsibility and obligations of everyone to nurture and care for these relationships.

Kaupapa – The Principle of Collective Philosophy: the shared aspirations and collective vision of Māori communities.

Other powerful concepts have developed within Kaupapa Māori including the principles of:

Ata – The Principle of Growing Respectful Relationships (Pohata 2005): relates to the building and nurturing of relationships, negotiating boundaries, creating respectful spaces and corresponding behaviours.

It is not only the substance, and there is undoubtedly something substantial about Kaupapa Māori, that appeals to me, rather it is the principle that behind each action, each intervention, there is a purposeful connection to a collective sense of people, of belonging. There appears to be a disconnect between the day-to-day activities of providing education in the British context and an engagement, a deliberate and conscious engagement, with the development of the individual that education is intended to form.

Kaupapa Māori, and indeed other world views that have developed independently of the western ‘scientific’ positivist paradigms, create different epistemological frameworks, different spaces within which educational discourses occur. I learnt in a very personal way in 2008 when I joined Massey University that the Māori world view does affect the way New Zealand educators, of all cultural backgrounds, see the world in which they educate. I drew a model on the whiteboard and a colleague simply asked ‘does it have to go that way up’. It is subtle, not always as evident to them as to those visiting from the outside, but it is there, a cultural ‘undertone’ that enriches and suffuses the discourse.  Whilst we have done much to think about student centred learning in the UK, we often appear to mean placing the student at the centre of our machine not centering the student. We prepare them to fit into the universal mechanical rational world we anticipate needs and wants them, we do not equip them well to reshape themselves and their world. I continue to believe that understanding the context, presumptions and assumptions of any particular discipline subject or issue is an important precursor to meaning making. I believe an epistemological self-awareness is a prerequisite to a meaningful education.

………………..

If you would like to learn more about Kaupapa Māori I would encourage you to visit http://www.kaupapamaori.com/

Pohatu, T.W (2005) ‘Āta: Growing Respectful Relationships’ (accessed 30 March 2013 at http://www.kaupapamaori.com/assets/ata.pdf)

Smith, G. H. (1990) ‘Research Issues Related to Maori Education’, paper presented to NZARE Special Interest Conference, Massey University, reprinted in 1992, The Issue of Research and Maori, Research Unit for Maori Education, The University of Auckland


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