Revolution or evolution?

I seem to have taken part in a lot of discussions recently in which I, or others, have talked about the need for a real ‘shake-up’ of what we do in assessment. It is indeed depressing that we continue to talk about the problems, but yet we don’t seem to be able to do much better. I am very definitely not an expert, but I have read masses of papers written by those I consider to be experts, so I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I am no longer really sure what assessment is for. I’ve heard all the arguments, but the more I read the more confused I become. And I suspect that, at least at institutional level, I am not alone in my confusion. I am no longer convinced that I know what we should alter in the ‘big shake-up’ and I fear that some of those who think they know what we should alter may be driven by rhetoric rather than by evidence.

In the absence of a revolution, I think we could make significant improvements by an evolutionary approach i.e. by making a series of smaller changes to our practice. In my own context small changes might include more ‘little and often’ assessment, more use of oral feedback, and assessment that is designed in a coherent way throughout a student’s programme of study, with more opportunities for reflection and perhaps with tutors being able to see feedback provided by tutors on previous modules. Some of these little changes are quite big! Your ‘little changes’ would be different.

Evolution has to do with the survival of the fittest, and in educational terms this reminds me of the importance of evaluating each of the ‘little changes’ (and, in an ideal world, not making too many changes at once – hmmm) and only persevering with the change if it is proven to be effective. Then, step by step, we can work towards better assessment practice.

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