Graham Gibbs

  • Characterising features of programme-level assessment environments that support learning

    Graham Gibbs, University of Oxford, UK

    Harriet Dunbar-Goddet, University of Oxford, UK

    Sue Law, University of Warwick, UK

    Chris Rust, Oxford Brookes University, UK

    Session 5a, Wednesday 09.30

    Research seminar

    Theme addressed:

    • Course and programme design

    This seminar focuses on those features of programme-level assessment environments that support learning, and views assessment as a component of teaching. The seminar is designed to explore with participants how course approval, review and evaluation could focus more effectively on design features of assessment that support learning rather than focusing mainly on assessment features concerned with standards and conformity with regulations. External quality assurance pressures in Europe (such as through the QAA in the UK) often embody assumptions about what makes for a good assessment regime, yet at the programme level, assessment regimes differ widely between institutions in relation to these assumptions. This raises questions about what features of assessment institutional quality assurance systems should focus on, and the appropriateness of conventional foci have been challenged (eg Elton and Johnston, 2002).

    Previous work has outlined a methodology for studying the impact of assessment regimes on student learning (Gibbs, 2002), identified conditions under which assessment supports student learning at the course level (Gibbs and Simpson, 2004), reported the development of the Assessment Experience Questionnaire (AEQ) (Gibbs and Simpson, 2003) and reported use of the AEQ in contrasting institutional environments (Gibbs, Simpson and Macdonald, 2003). The work reported here is part of a Higher Education Academy funded project that is using a revised form of the AEQ (Dunbar-Goddet and Gibbs, under review) to study the impact on student learning of assessment regimes in three subject areas in each of three contrasting institutional environments, as a pilot for an intended national scale study. The component of that study examined here concerns a methodology for categorising programme-level assessment environments as high, medium or low in terms of:

    • the volume and frequency of formative assessment
    • the percentage of marks derived from examinations
    • the percentage of marks derived from coursework
    • the volume and frequency of written and oral formative feedback
    • the extent of alignment of learning activity with summative assessment
    • the explicitness of goals, criteria and standards.

    The seminar will outline the methodology employed and describe the programme-level assessment patterns that have been identified using this methodology. It will then discuss with participants the extent to which features of assessment regimes that their quality assurance systems currently focus on are the ones that have most impact on student learning, and the extent to which course evaluation focuses on these features.


    • Dunbar-Goddet H and Gibbs G (under review) A methodology for evaluating the effects of programme assessment environments on student learning. European Association for Research into Learning and Instruction, Assessment Conference, Northumbria.
    • Elton L and Johnston B (2002) Assessment in Universities: A Critical Review of Research. Report to the Generic Centre of the LTSN network.
    • Gibbs G (2002) Evaluation of the impact of formative assessment on student learning behaviour. European Association for Research into Learning and Instruction. Newcastle: Northumbria University.
    • Gibbs G and Simpson C (2004) Measuring the response of students to assessment: the Assessment Experience Questionnaire. In C Rust (Ed) Improving Student Learning: Theory, Research and Scholarship. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development
    • Gibbs G and Simpson C (2004) Conditions under which assessment supports student learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education 1, pp3-31.
    • Gibbs G, Simpson C and Macdonald R (2003) Improving student learning through changing assessment – a conceptual and practical framework. European Association for Research into Learning and Instruction Conference, Padova, Italy.