Alison Shreeve

  • The limitations of difference. Exploring variation in student conceptions of the link between assessment and learning outcomes.

    Alison Shreeve (1) , Jonathon Baldwin (2), Gerald Farraday (1)

    1. London College of Fashion
    2. University of Brighton

    Research Paper

    Theme: Assessment

    The move towards using learning outcomes to define and structure the learning and assessment of students has been widespread in UK Higher Education. Much emphasis has been rightly placed on the role of assessment in student learning (eg Biggs, 1996; Gibbs and Simpson, 2003). The results of the researchers’ phenomenographic study into student conceptions of assessment using learning outcomes in the design project, (Shreeve, Baldwin, & Farraday, 2003) indicates that within a body of students there will be variation in the way that assessment itself is understood in a given situation and such variation can affect the way that students approach learning (Laurillard, 1984).

    Within a learning environment with assessment framed within project based practical work, employing written learning outcomes set out in the project brief and a statement that assessment is dependent on demonstrating the learning outcomes set out on the brief, there is still variation in the way that students conceive of the link between the learning outcome and assessment. The researchers construed that there were three qualitatively different ways in which this link could be conceived. Some students understand the link to be the products required for assessment; that what you write, make, construct or draw is the learning outcome and the product itself is assessed. The second conception focuses on the progress and development the student is making and implies that it is a personal increase in knowledge and ability which is assessed and the third link is a clear link, which sees the stated learning outcome as what you are supposed to learn through undertaking the project work and this is the focus of how you are assessed. For some students there is a discrepancy in the way they conceive of different aspects of the assessment process.

    This paper examines the nature of the variation in conception of the link between learning outcomes and assessment and discusses the implications for improving the quality of learning through assessment. The variation found here may be influenced by tutor orientation (Samuelowitz and Bain, 2002) or by the students’ previous experience in assessment (Prosser and Trigwell, 1999). But with an increasingly diverse body of students the range of variation in conception where assessment is concerned is an issue that academics should be addressing.


    • Biggs, J (1996) Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment Higher Education Vol 32, pp 347-364, Netherlands, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
    • Gibbs, G. & Simpson C. (2003) Measuring the response of students to assessment: the Assessment Experience Questionnaire. In proceedings: Improving Student Learning Symposium, 2003 Oxford OCSLD (In press)
    • Laurillard, D.(1984) Styles and Approaches in problem Solving In F. Marton, D. Hounsell, N. Entwistle (Eds) The Experience of learning : implications for teaching and studying in higher education. Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press
    • Prosser, M & Trigwell, K (1999) Understanding learning and teaching. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.
    • Samuelowitz, K & Bain, J (2002) Identifying academics’ orientations to assessment practice. Higher Education Vol.43 pp 173-201 Netherlands, Kluwer Academic Publishers
    • Shreeve,A. Baldwin,J. & Farraday,G.(2003) Variation in Student Conception of Assessment Using Learning Outcomes. In proceedings: Improving Student Learning Symposium, 2003 Oxford OCSLD (In press)