December 11, 2009

PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies': pre–workshop reflection

As I've planned this workshop (see outline here) I've become increasingly aware of how dependent I am on the participants wanting to contribute and being prepared to engage and discuss. Without that, the whole thing will fall on its face! Unlike the Course Design workshop, however, I think I can assume that all the participants have experience both of being assessed and of setting assessments. So I think it will be crucial to take advantage of that bank of resource(s) and fully acknowledge that experience right at the start. That's one of the reasons why I've begun the workshop by asking participants to circulate round the whole Teaching Grid space and to initial each of the A4 sheets which outlines a form of assessment they use in their discipline. The point of that is not only to value their experience, but also to demonstrate to them that there are many types of assessment, some of which they may not have come across but which may well be routinely used in another discipline. I did the same exercise the last time I ran this workshop, but not at the beginning, and I was poor at following it up with the result that all the richness was not made available to everyone. This time I'm using it to kick the workshop off and it will lead immediately into a time of discussion. This will focus on questions such as, 'Why are different types of assessment used?', 'What's the difference, from a learning perspective, between an exam and an essay?', 'How do we evaluate the quality of essays?', and the more personal 'What assessment practices are you particularly proud of?' and 'What have you struggled with?'. If participants (I think about 9 of them) are unwilling to speak in front of the whole group I will divide them into smaller groups and have a feedback session after. I will follow that up by brainstorming the times when we need to be able to evaluate assessment practice (and hence introduce the need for this workshop), introducing occasions such as external examining, being an external member on a validation committee, following best practice for marking procedures, and responding to student feedback.

From there I want to go into some of the meat of the session, eliciting from the participants some of the key considerations when assessing. For me, those key considerations are:

  • Constructive alignment
  • Formative and summative assessment
  • Good practice when designing assessment tasks and activities
  • Responding to student feedback.

There may be more that I need to add as I go on reading and reflecting.

I am keen to avoid as much as possible asking participants simply to sit and listen. For one thing it doesn't cohere with my understanding of how people learn best; for another, feedback (spoken, written, and in body language) has indicated that this is rarely appreciated in the context of PCAPP. So how can I 'deliver' this content?

I decided that I would try a technique that can really only happen in the Teaching Grid given its fantastic array of technology. If I were in a traditional classroom or lecture theatre I would have to think about how it could be achieved in a different way. However, since the TG has a lot of computers available, and there is a good amount of material on the web about Constructive Alignment, I plan to divide the participants into 3 groups, one of which will use the computers to find out as much as they can about CA. Another group will brainstorm good practice when designing assessment tasks and activities, and the last will look at a photocopy of Phil Race's chapter on 'What has Assessment Done for us--and to us?' and evaluate his suggestions. Each of the groups can use a Smart Board to make notes and compile a 'poster'. After about 15 minutes I will ask the groups to reform and tell the others about their findings, going on to discuss the relevance and critique as well as find the good in all the ideas.

Then a break.

After the break the session will become more creative. Ask the participants firstly to design an assessment for this workshop. Once they have done that, then ask them to design the assessment for the whole of the PCAPP programme.

I have never tried the approach of what is effectively peer to peer teaching in this context before. I am not sure what I think about it for this workshop, although I am certainly convinced of its efficacy in other situations and have experienced its strengths. I have decided to go for it here because I really want to avoid the 'sit and listen to the expert' scenario, but also because I hope it will encourage participants to engage with the material at a deeper level, asking questions, sharing discussion and applying it to their practice. Much depends, as I said when I started this blogpost, on their willingness to cooperate...


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