Paul Orsmond

  • Considering students’ approaches to assessment: some lessons for teaching strategies.

    Paul Orsmond, Staffordshire University, UK

    Stephen Merry, Staffordshire University, UK

    Session 4g, Tuesday 16.00

    Research paper

    Theme addressed:

    • Teaching methods

    In 2004 a study was carried out in a post-1992 university which considered two specific issues:

    1. How students used learning outcomes in approaching their assessment tasks and
    2. what were students’ perceptions of the role of self- and peer-assessment? (Orsmond et al, in press).

    This paper reinterprets the data from that study to focus on the teaching role of tutors. The 2004 quantitative and qualitative study involved 33 second year undergraduate biology students who undertook a module entitled ‘Research Skills’. There were two parts to the module assessment whereby module learning outcomes were to be demonstrated:

    1. Production of a scientific poster and
    2. engagement with self- and peer-assessment.

    The authors were interested to see whether students and tutors used module learning outcomes in completing the poster assignment, or whether other outcomes of learning, for example providing as much information as possible on the assessment topic, were used. These other outcomes are termed ‘distractions’. Furthermore, it was of interest to see how students perceived the self- and peer-assessment process. A student questionnaire was completed in weeks five, three, and one prior to the poster submission. The analysis of the questionnaire was carried out using Principle Components Analysis and ANOVA. Additionally, ten students agreed to take part in semi-structured interviews, and informal discussions took place with the eleven tutors responsible for project supervision. The results showed that:

    1. Students and tutors did not differentiate between formal module learning outcomes and ‘distractions’ and
    2. (as discussed in Orsmond et al, manuscript in preparation) that while students appeared to be aware of the self- and peer-assessment requirements, they were unaware of the wider role of the informal self- and peer-assessment that took place during the assessment process to the development of their scientific ideas.

    Students seemed to focus on these assessment methods when assessing the posters, the products of the assessment task. These results have important implications for the role of the tutor with respect to the hidden curriculum and the implementation of assessment. This paper considers three specific aspects of the tutors’ role:

    1. how ‘feedback’ is given to students and the role of feedback in guiding student learning, particularly in the way in which feedback may be used to sustain learning,
    2. issues regarding designing a curriculum, particularly with respect to constructive alignment, team teaching and involvement of students in the learning process, and
    3. the interpretation and implementation of self- and peer-assessment as a learning tool with particular attention to how issues such as criteria are made explicit and the need for students to be aware of informal self- and peer-assessment processes.

    The work is placed within the context of the existing educational literature, including the role of learning outcomes in learning (Allen, 1997), constructive alignment (Biggs 1996) and the role of the hidden curriculum in determining learning in higher education (Sambell and McDowell, 1998).


    • Allen J (1997). Learning outcomes-led modular design: an analysis of the design features which influence students’ perceptions of learning. In G Gibbs and C Rust (Eds), Improving Student Learning: Improving Student Learning by Course Design. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.
    • Biggs J (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32, 347-364.
    • Orsmond P, Merry S and Sheffield D (in press) A quantitative and qualitative study of changes in the use of learning outcomes and distractions by students and tutors during a biology poster assessment. Studies in Educational Evaluation.
    • Sambell K and McDowell L (1998). The construction of the hidden curriculum: messages and meanings in the assessment of student learning. Studies in Higher Education, 23, 391-402.