Assessment and feedback
Why assessment matters
Assessment matters. It shapes students' learning experience and strongly influences what and how students learn. What is being assessed, therefore, should be closely aligned with the unit and program outcomes. Another important consideration is the way we assess students. Our assessment choices (for example, getting students to do a quiz, write an essay or a report, or engage in a simulation or a role play) have implications for what students focus on, and, therefore, learn.
Macquarie's approach to assessment
1. Equal focus on formative and summative assessments.
Assessment serves two important purposes. Firstly, formal and informal assessments provide students with feedback that helps students become aware of gaps in their knowledge and skills. It also helps to provide direction in learning by suggesting the ways to address these gaps. This type of assessment is often referred to as 'formative assessment', as it helps to 'shape' students' learning. Secondly, assessment is used to measure student learning. This type of assessment is referred to as 'summative assessment'. Macquarie University encourages its teaching staff to go beyond summative assessments and use a wide variety of formative assessment tasks.
2. Fit-for-purpose, varied and authentic
Most assessments in Australian universities tend to be written (as opposed to oral), and comprised of essays, reports, and traditional time-constrained exams. While these familiar approaches have their own benefits, other 'fit for purpose' approaches may be more motivating, engaging, inclusive and efficient. For example, it may be more appropriate to assess students' practical skills via a practical task rather than a multiple-choice quiz. Macquarie University encourages its staff to actively explore alternative assessment methods aligned with the unit and program outcomes.
3. Aligned with program and unit learning outcomes
Learning outcomes are statements that express expectations of what students will learn in a program and in specific units (e.g. It is expected that on completion of this program/unit, students will have...).They are a key tool for ensuring a good alignment between content, activities and assessments. A good practice is to start from learning outcomes and align teaching and assessments to the desired outcomes. Unit convenors need to consider both the unit, and the program outcomes when designing assessments.
4. Program-level assessment in addition to unit assessments
Assessing students not only on a unit level, but also on a program
level, provides students with an opportunity to consolidate their
knowledge and skills, and reflect on how their individual units and
assessments helped them in their bigger journey. Students develop in 2-3
year programs rather than 5 month units, and including program-level
assessments can act as a catalyst for this development.
For examples of programmatic assessments at Macquarie, read this Teche interview.
5. Transparent, standards-based assessment
Standards-based assessment enables transparency in assessments, as it lets students know which criteria they will be judged against and specifies the standards for each criterion. Macquarie uses a 5-level grading system (High Distinction; Distinction; Credit; Pass; Fail) and encourages teaching staff to have explicit and clear criteria descriptions and marking rubrics for each assignment.
6. Fair and equitable
Fair assessment considers the fairness of three areas:
- what students are asked to do (e.g. whether they have had sufficient exposure and practice in the assessed area, or whether the task is free from gender, cultural or any other potential bias)
- how students are assessed (e.g. how group assignments are assessed or whether markers might be impacted by interpersonal factors)
- how the conclusions that we draw from our assessments impact current and future students
Macquarie encourages its teaching staff to provide students with assessment choices and conduct a rigorous moderation (= peer-feedback) of assessments. In other words, it is expected that each summative assessment will be reviewed by colleagues at all stages of this assessment (setting assessment criteria and standards, design, marking and grading, review).The Assessment Policy also stipulates that any groupwork needs to be structured in such a way that individual contributions can be assessed. For more details, see Assessment Policy.
7. Promoting academic integrity
Macquarie encourages its teaching staff to promote academic integrity in different ways, including the active use of originality reporting software (e.g.Turnitin) and a regular review and moderation of assessment tasks.