Alison Broad (Primary Education and Early Years), Tom Harrison (Education), Duc Pham (Mechanical Engineering), Clare Ray (Institute of Clinical Sciences), Chris Ribchester (Academic Practice Advisor/Geography), Nicola Taylor (Academic Writing Advisor/College of Arts and Law)
The recent Distinguished Fellows Think Tank provided an all too rare opportunity for colleagues from across the University to share their perspectives on learning and teaching. We were drawn together through a common interest in the future of assessment and it quickly became apparent that, despite our diverse academic backgrounds, there was much that we agreed on. Our vision for assessment in 2026 was shaped by many factors (e.g. changing employment opportunities, significant technological advances, greater scrutiny of the quality of teaching) and included:
- A more diverse mix of assignments. We could explain the preponderance of end of module examinations but we struggled to find a justification for it. We have the option now to shake off this tradition, and to put ‘assessment for learning’ at the heart of our thinking, but perhaps to do so requires creativity, caution and collaboration?
- A focus on authentic assignments, tasks designed with student employability in mind, and configured to prepare our students better for the challenges of the 21st Century workplace. We wondered about the value of greater flexibility to design, aligned with more efficient processes to allow us to quickly update, assignments that focus on the priorities of our students, their future professions, employers and society?
- A focus on collaboration. With authenticity comes a move away from the traditional ‘essay’ format. We wondered whether, by 2026, there will be a place for a research-based Centre for Academic Literacy(ies) that contributes to discussion on the nature and design of innovative, authentic assessment tasks, and supports staff and students in teaching / learning how to present knowledge in these new ways?
- A future in which assignment feedback impacted consistently and meaningfully on student learning. We pondered over much in a short period of time, acknowledging how technology can make feedback more timely, instant in some cases! But such advances will only be beneficial if we think carefully about when feedback is likely to be most impactful. Should we focus our feedback efforts more on work in progress rather than final summative submissions, encouraging a greater degree of feedforward? What is the best relationship and balance between formative and summative assessment in a programme? Should we assess less or more to make feedback work?
This was just a start; devising a more rounded and comprehensive vision of assessment in ten years’ time would take a little longer. But there was one other thing we agreed on, perhaps the most important thing of all? Individuals, however well-intentioned and hard-working, cannot transform assessment on their own – a collaborative approach is needed. A programme perspective is essential to create a cohort student learning experience, one which offers an integrated, progressive pattern of diverse assessment, allowing students to build on prior experiences over the course of a programme. This may often necessitate challenging discussions, and perhaps long-established approaches will be thrown into question, but we think they are certainly discussions worth having…