The following is a brief summary of a session on assessment as dialogue. The session ran on Wednesday, 14th September, as part of the LLI’s Focus On… activities.
The themes covered were:
- Reflecting on what we mean by dialogue in education and the different ways we might enable it
- Looking at assessment, feedback and dialogue through a Learning Development ‘lens’ (see captured segments below)
- Discussing and sharing practices – reflecting on their suitability, desirability, feasibility etc. for diverse teaching contexts
Near the start of the session, we discussed what conditions would ideally pertain for fruitful and productive dialogue to occur between students and teachers. This enabled us to think about how the conditions for dialogue are, in fact, very often some way from such ideals. Participants pointed to the plurality of agendas that existed and how teachers and students were often motivated by different priorities and concerns. Others referred to the time and space required for genuine, in-depth dialogue to take place and how this was often difficult or, indeed, impossible to create when student numbers were so high.
Throughout the session we also discussed the context-dependency of any decisions we might take to change and develop teaching and assessment practices. Participants were encouraged to think about the need for individuals and course teams to reflect on the desirability and feasibility of different approaches to assessment and feedback before coming to provisional judgements about how to act. To help me make this point at the outset I quoted from Hammersley’s (2005) work on the limitations of taking too instrumental an approach when it came to engaging with research evidence.
Later in the session we looked at Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick’s (2006) seven principles for effective feedback (based on notions of developing students’ assessment literacies) – each of which placing a significant emphasis on various forms of, and opportunities for, dialogue. The principles they outline are as follows:
- Helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards)
- Facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning
- Delivers high quality information to students about their learning
- Encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning
- Encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem
- Provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance
- Provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching
Once again, in the discussion that followed, colleagues were invited to think about the desirability and feasibility of various principles for their own teaching contexts, priorities, educational values etc.
Although the session was largely discussion based, I also captured the following sections for future reference.
Captured session (in which I say ‘stuff’, ‘sort of’ and ‘kind of’ with infuriating frequency, and in which occasional sound distortions mean it’s definitely better heard with the sound turned down quite low!)
References from the session:
Biesta, G. (2013) The Beautiful Risk of Education, Colorado: Paradigm Publishers
Hammersley, M. (2005) The myth of research‐based practice: the critical case of educational inquiry, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8(4), 317-330
Harrington, K (2011) The Role of Assessment in “Writing in the Disciplines”. In Deane, M and O’Neill, P, eds. Writing in the Disciplines. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 48-62
Lillis, T & Turner, J (2001) Student Writing in Higher Education: Contemporary confusion, traditional concerns, Teaching in Higher Education, 6(1), 57-68
Nicol, D.J. (2010) From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 501-517
Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education, 31(2), 199-218
O’Donovan, B., Rust, C., and Price, M. (2016) A scholarly approach to solving the feedback dilemma in practice, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(6), 938-949