A review of a faculty-wide change in assessment practice for open and distance learners of science.

Jordan, Sally (2014). A review of a faculty-wide change in assessment practice for open and distance learners of science. In: 8th EDEN Research Workshop: Challenged for Research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better-Doing Better Things, 27-28 Oct 2014, Oxford, UK.

URL: http://www.eden-online.org/2014_oxford.html


Previous practice in the Open University Science Faculty has been for all modules to be assessed by a combination of summative continuous assessment, with extensive feedback comments, and an end-of-module task (an examination or an extended assignment). This practice, although well established and apparently well received, has led to concerns, as reported elsewhere, that staff and students have a different understanding of the purpose of continuous assessment: staff see its purpose as primarily formative whilst students are primarily concerned with obtaining high marks.
The revised practice still requires students to meet a threshold for their overall continuous assessment score, but the final grade is determined by the end-of-module assessment alone. The evaluation of the change in practice has been split into small practitioner-led sub-projects, comparing impact across different modules and levels, with the aim of identifying factors that lead to improved engagement. Sub-projects are both quantitative, e.g. comparing assignment completion rates before and after the change, and qualitative e.g. investigating student and tutor perceptions and opinion.
The change to formative thresholded assessment has sometimes led to a reduction in submissions for the final piece of continuous assessment and to an increase in the number of partial submissions. However other factors, in particular a cut-off date for an assignment (whether summative or formative thresholded) close to an examination, had a considerably larger effect and the change in practice does not appear to have had any effect on overall completion and success rates.
Many students and associate lecturers have a poor understanding of our assessment strategies, including conventional summative continuous assessment. This is in line with a frequently found result that students have poor understanding of the nature and function of assessment, perhaps because it has not been properly explained. It is important that assessment strategies are clear and consistent across qualifications, and that they are made clear to students.
Whilst student motivation cannot be implied, it is possibly to see evidence that supports a notion of two contrasting groups of students who are in borderline continuous assessment categories: those who do well on the minimum number of assignments but chose not to submit others and still do well on the final examination, and those who have a more modest performance on continuous assessment (perhaps just omitting one assignment) and fail the module as a result of their poor examination performance. Some students are probably best advised to spend their limited time on revision rather than attempting all components of continuous assessment.
Where a skill is best assessed by a project or experimental report, future policy will encourage a two-part summative component, including the project/experimental report as well as an examination. Other assignments will remain formative but thresholded, with a clear purpose of preparing students for the examinable components.

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