What is assessment for learning?
The University of Bath is committed to embracing assessment for learning (AFL) as a key curriculum principle.
Over the past two decades, AFL has emerged as a key conceptual approach to practice in educational settings, from schools to universities. At its heart, AFL shifts the focus from assessment as something that happens at the end of a learning cycle to instead seeing it as an essential element of everyday teaching and learning practice where both teachers and students are active in examining where learning is at, where it needs to go, and how best to get there.
Designing assessment for learning
The careful choice and design of summative assessment types that provide valid, reliable and motivating opportunities for all students to demonstrate their performance against the intended learning outcomes is essential to course design. This design will be most worthwhile when it forms part of an approach that develops students’ ability to self-regulate their learning progress.
AFL will underpin a well-designed course, making progress more transparent, and providing an opportunity for responsive teaching and learning to take place. AFL should encompass a variety of activities that allow learners to encounter, practise and master the skills that are required to graduate from their course. The strategies chosen may differ depending on the context (e.g. year of study, intended learning outcomes, subject content, class size, available resources, and so on).
Disentangling assessment and feedback
AFL emphasises the importance of eliciting information about students’ learning progress, using this to provide meaningful direction for steps to correct or improve understanding and performance. Feedback and the use of ‘formative’ assessment is vital to this. Formative assessment is most powerful when understood as something that inhabits everyday teaching and learning practice by both teachers and students. Specific opportunities to practice an assessment task and receive feedback are important, but too great an emphasis on these limits the multitude of ways that feedback on learning can be elicited. Recent research has pointed to the need to ‘disentangle’ feedback from assessment to ensure the purposes of each are not compromised.
Students as active partners
Using AFL strategies encourages learners to move beyond being a passive recipient of grades into an active participant. By de-mystifying expected standards, providing clear steps for progression and exemplars, learners can take greater accountability and the ability to make a sound evaluation about their own work.
Making comparisons against external information and generating inner feedback out of those comparisons is how we all learn and is the mechanism by which we regulate our own performance and learning.David Nicol, 2021
In this way, AFL provides the opportunity to counter the view that improving feedback is about teachers providing ‘more’ and ‘better’ comments on submitted work, and instead to focus on activities that build students’ own capabilities and self-regulation. In AFL approaches the use of peer assessment has gained traction as means to accelerate progress. The higher-order thinking processes activated, and internal feedback produced by the process of marking and making judgements, provides a greater learning opportunity than the feedback they receive from their peers in the same process.
Useful resources and references:
Formative assessment and feedback for learning in higher education: A systematic review, Rebecca Morris, Thomas Perry, Lindsey Wardle (2021)
A helpful overview of the evidence for effective formative assessment and feedback approaches in higher education which aims to promote a more evidence-informed approach to teaching and learning in universities.
How can we support you?
We recognise that each course, department or faculty may require a different approach to enhancing their assessments. We would therefore encourage you to get in touch so that we can work with you and your colleagues to address those aspects of assessment and feedback which are relevant to your discipline and student cohort.