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Making assessment meaningful

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Why is Assessment a ‘hot topic’ now?

In the National Student Survey Assessment and Feedback has been the lowest scoring dimension nationally.

Research studies (Gibbs and Habeshaw 1989, Biggs 2003, Gibbs and Dunbar-Goddet 2007) tell us that students are driven by assessment and pay more attention to things they are assessed on. The study by Gibbs and Dunbar-Goddet (2007 p24) states that students “narrowed their attention and their effort to those things that they were told would be assessed, put in less effort, covered less of the syllabus, adopted less of a deep approach and gained less satisfaction from their studies”.

It is claimed that:

Assessment practices in most universities have not kept pace with the vast changes in the context, aims and structure of higher education. They can no longer do justice to the outcomes we expect from a university education in relation to wide-ranging knowledge, skills and employability. 

Higher Education Academy (Ball et al 2012 p7)

What are the challenges?

Professor Eric Mazur, Dean of the Physics Department at Harvard University, an advocate of the flipped classroom, peer-learning and what he terms ‘just-in-time’ learning, has stated that “unless we rethink our approach to assessment it will be very difficult to produce a meaningful change in education” and that poorly designed assessment has the potential to “kill imagination and creativity” (Mazur 2015).

However, the Re-engineering Assessment Practices (REAP) project has demonstrated that assessment redesign with technology can result in improved learning, higher student satisfaction and more efficient use of staff time. 

Student perspectives

A student comment captured in the Jisc Assessment and Feedback projects provides an important perspective on the impact of having a limited range of types of assessments.  

It would be better if...there were better ways of assessing, rather than just all coursework and exams at the end… You do get quite enthusiastic about the first one or two, but when it gets to the fourth one, it does become so mundane and so dull. You just feel you’re going through the motions of churning them out.

The tutor/lecturer’s role in assessment

The REAP project recommends that assessment and feedback practices should be designed to enable students to become self-regulated learners, and to monitor and evaluate the quality and impact of their own work and that of others. A broad and varied menu of assessment, relevant to the future employment destinations of students, can begin to address this as can opportunities for formative, peer and self assessment. 

Find out more:

Ball,S,,  Bew C, Bloxham S,,Brown S, Kleiman P, May H, McDowell L, Morris, E, Orr S,  Payne E, Price, M Rust, C Brenda Smith B and Waterfield J. 2012 A marked improvement. Transforming assessment in higher education. York: HEA. 

Boud D. 2000. Sustainable assessment; rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in continuing education. 22 (2) p150-167

Ferrell G. 2013. Supporting assessment and feedback practice with technology; from tinkering to transformation. JISC

Find out about the tools that support assessment



An audience response system which enables your audience to participate in lectures by submitting responses to questions using a small handset.



Turnitin provides online assignment feedback tools which incorporates text-matching to support academic writing.



PeerWise is an online multiple choice question (MCQ) application that is accessible by all staff and students. 



Students can use e-portfolio to collate journals, media and social resources, that can be shared with tutors, peers and future employers.



Find out about Mentimeter, a tool that enables your students to vote using smartphones during a lecture.

Further tools to consider

Skype logo


Skype is an instant communication and messaging tool, suitable for both personal and educational use.



Use SlideShark from a computer or your iOS mobile device, simply upload a PowerPoint file to your secure online account.


Storify is a social network service where you can create stories or timelines using social media such as Twitter and Facebook.