Janice Orrell

  • An exploration of congruence and disjunctions between academics' thinking when assessing learning and their beliefs about their assessment practice

    Dr Janice Orrell, Flinders University, Adelaide South Australia.

    Research paper

    Theme addressed: Assessment

    This paper reports the comparison of two data sets that examined experienced academics' thinking-in-assessment and their personal practical theories-about -assessment. One data set depicts assessors' and their focus of attention while they assessed their students' written assignments. The other data set outlines academics' personally held beliefs, claims and justifications about their assessment practices. The comparison of these two data sets revealed that congruence between behaviours and beliefs were largely related to traditional and commonsense purposes and practices. Principally these were that the administrative purpose of assessment was to generate a grade; the pedagogical purposes were to diagnose learning, to direct students' attention to essential learning outcomes and to assess the accuracy of student conceptual understanding and general thinking.

    Disjunctions largely related to the nature of the feedback they gave, what was actually assessed and the incorporation of more innovative features of the design of assessment tasks. The academics in this study exhibited some insight into the possible disjunctions between their assessment behaviours and pedagogical beliefs and ideals.

    The analysis in this research reveals that they utilised four different strategies for managing the disjunctions. These were (1) acceptance of constraints, (2) resistance to constraints and adherence to their own view, (3) adaptation to constraints through modifying their own view and (4) avoidance by designing assessment so as not to confront the constraints. Importantly, there were significant differences in academics' responses to the disjunction. The degree of professional literacy each possessed in the form of having a pedagogical language to articulate their preferred practice was a significant factor in assisting them to rationalise and manage the constraints they experienced.

    The importance of this study is that it does not claim to prescribe academics' assessment behaviour and practical beliefs, but provides a practical insight into a largely private and unscrutinised aspect of academic work. Such insight functions as a framework that will assist 'everyday' academics to develop their professional literacy about assessment and to understand and articulate the tacit dilemmas they face.