Keynote 1

  • Looking backwards: a way to take diagnostic testing forward?

    Nan Yeld, University of Cape Town

    In many parts of the world, and for many decades, universities have used admissions tests in broad, generic skills areas to provide additional information on the levels of preparedness for higher education study of their incoming students. This paper argues, however, that the challenge of diagnosing students’ educational needs on entry to higher education pales into insignificance compared to that of ensuring that the diagnostic information is actually used. This is not to belittle the contribution of tests used to place students in access or remedial courses. On the contrary, such tests are invaluable in helping to ensure that students are assigned to classes or groups which function at the same general level, and attempt to meet educational needs interpreted without a great deal of specificity. The important, more finely-grained information available in a well designed diagnostic test is, however, lost in the hurly burly of admissions and selection, and regular first-year curricula tend to proceed with minimal awareness and use of the curriculum development information embedded in the tests. In this paper, an alternative approach to diagnostic testing, aimed at better exploiting such information, is explored. The paper discusses a pilot project which compared the test performance of comparable groups of entering and graduating students at the University of Cape Town . The main aims of the pilot study were:

    • to assess the extent to which lecturing staff would take seriously, and find useful, information about the extent to which their own graduates had achieved broad programme or curriculum outcomes (publicly endorsed by the lecturers themselves), and
    • (ii) to reflect on the potential of this approach to impact constructively on curriculum design.

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