August 03, 2009

Assessment Practice and Strategies web ad

August 3rd 09

Last week I worked on the advertisement for the PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies'. It will provide the general information about the workshop that potential participants will see when they first start looking for information on the LDC website, so it is important that I compose something appealing. It's also important that it reflects transparently what the workshop is aiming to achieve and the way it will be conducted.

With my developing desire that these workshops should be highly reflective, I am concerned that this web ad communicates this. Composing it was an interesting exercise. The first issue which it raised was what the role of the content of the workshop was, and therefore what the purpose of the workshop was. So I grappled with questions such as:

  • Is this really a session in which I plan to transmit a fair bit of information about assessment practice and strategies to the participants?
  • Is that the primary goal of the session?
  • Clearly one of the purposes of the session must be to transmit information, since this is important and relevant, but can I do this in a way in which reflection is also fostered and engaged in?

It seemed to me that I needed to bring in an additional dimension but without sacrificing the content completely. Content and reflection on content and practice needed to walk hand in hand, but in many ways the reflection needed to have the upper hand. A number of participants at these workshops have had relevant experience in designing assessment tasks with their students and one of the things I wanted to do was to respect this, to treat all participants as adults by not simply expecting them to sit behind desks (feeling diminished?) and dutifully take notes about something they were already familiar with. Instead, I wanted to capitalise on their experience, hopefully getting them to share it with others who either had less experience or whose backgrounds (especially those from abroad) meant that they really needed the introduction and the content. But even this is not enough: for those with this type of relevant experience, I wanted to develop their ability to reflect and evaluate on their previous and present practice, with a view to enhancing it in the future. In short, I wanted to develop reflective practitioners, and potentially a community of reflective practitioners.

I decided to state that in the web ad. In response to the prompt, 'What for will the workshop take?', I wrote the following.

The workshop will focus on a range of issues relating to assessment. Although it will introduce material derived from the scholarship of teaching and learning, its primary emphasis is on developing reflective practitioners. You should come prepared to discuss and evaluate aspects of your practice through dialogue with others and engagement with educational theory and research, with a view to developing your thinking in this area.

I hoped that this outline appropriately highlighted the fact that participants would be introduced to content and some of the relevant scholarship on assessment that needs to inform their practice, while at the same time emphasised that this content in some way took the form of a tool rather than an end in its own right.

The learning outcomes were a further challenge. I tried to compose LOs which prioritised the reflective aspect of what I wanted to achieve, but to my dismay, everything that I put on paper sounded rather weak. I realised at that point that 'reflection' can sound insipid, worryingly empty, and hence unattractive, especially for colleagues whose subjects are very content-focused. I came face-to-face, again, with the realisation that so much of my subject discipline, education, is about process. How to communicate that in such a way that participants can grasp what I'm getting at? Maybe this blog is one way in which I'm addressing that... In the end, I opted for a longer list of LOs which had a mix of content- and process-focused goals, as follows:

By the end of the workshop you will:

·        Be able to state the major reasons why good assessment practice is crucial within Higher Education and compare this thinking with your own practice

·        Have engaged with current thinking about how to ensure good quality, and appropriate, assessment

·        Be able to identify a range of methods of assessment and associate these with desired types of learning

·        Have reflected on your own practice through interaction with peers and educational theory

·        If appropriate, have formulated ideas about how to enhance and improve the assessment methods you currently employ

·        Have reflected on and internalised the session as a whole so that your future practice is enhanced and you have developed the skills of a reflective practitioner

As I progressed, I realised that the emphasis (and addition) of reflection into the normal 3-hr workshop would have a major impact on time, and therefore on the amount of content that could be introduced or 'covered'. Another challenge! My concern to treat participants as adults resurfaced, and I decided the only way forward was to suggest that they did some prior reading. Glasgow University's equivalent to the LDC offers a good self-study course on assessment, and Brookes's CETL, the Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange (ASKe), has made a relevant Position Paper available on the web. I couldn't be sure that people would read either (everyone must be familiar with that difficulty!) but if some did, then once again it would give them material to work with during the session as well as a resource to turn to afterwards.

The full web ad can be found here:

It's just a draft at the moment. Please feel free to comment!

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