Higher Education

, Volume 74, Issue 1, pp 49–64 | Cite as

How university teachers design assessments: a cross-disciplinary study

  • Margaret Bearman
  • Phillip Dawson
  • Sue Bennett
  • Matt Hall
  • Elizabeth Molloy
  • David Boud
  • Gordon Joughin
Article

Abstract

There are dissonances between educators’ aspirations for assessment design and actual assessment implementation in higher education. Understanding how assessment is designed ‘on the ground’ can assist in resolving this tension. Thirty-three Australian university educators from a mix of disciplines and institutions were interviewed. A thematic analysis of the transcripts indicated that assessment design begins as a response to an impetus for change. The design process itself was shaped by environmental influences, which are the circumstances surrounding the assessment design, and professional influences, which are those factors that the educators themselves bring to the process. A range of activities or tasks were undertaken, including those which were essential to all assessment design, those more selective activities which educators chose to optimise the assessment process in particular ways and meta-design processes which educators used to dynamically respond to environmental influences. The qualitative description indicates the complex social nature of interwoven personal and environmental influences on assessment design and the value of an explicit and strategic ways of thinking within the constraints and affordances of a local environment. This suggests that focussing on relational forms of professional development that develops strategic approaches to assessment may be beneficial. The role of disciplinary approaches may be significant and remains an area for future research.

Keywords

Assessment Academic context Academic experiences Academic practice Teaching skills 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Office for Learning and Teaching under Grant ID12-2254. We do not have any financial interests or benefits from any direct application of this work.

References

  1. Bennett, S., Thomas, L., Agostinho, S., Lockyer, L., Jones, J., & Harper, B. (2011). Understanding the design context for Australian university teachers: Implications for the future of learning design. Learning, Media and Technology, 36(2), 151–167. doi:10.1080/17439884.2011.553622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Carless, D. (2015). Exploring learning-oriented assessment processes. Higher Education, 69(6), 963–976. doi:10.1007/s10734-014-9816-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Creswell, J. W., & Roskens, R. W. (1981). The Biglan studies of differences among academic areas. Review of Higher Education, 4(3), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dedoose, V. (2012). Web application for managing, analyzing, and presenting qualitative and mixed method research data. Los Angeles, CA: SocioCultural Research Consultants.Google Scholar
  6. Fletcher, R., Meyer, L., Anderson, H., Johnston, P., & Rees, M. (2012). Faculty and students conceptions of assessment in higher education. Higher Education, 64(1), 119–133. doi:10.1007/s10734-011-9484-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and teaching in higher education, 1(1), 3–31.Google Scholar
  8. Guba, E. G. (1990). The alternative paradigm dialog. In E. G. Guba (Ed.), The paradigm dialog (pp. 17–30). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  9. James, D. (2014). Investigating the curriculum through assessment practice in higher education: the value of a ‘learning cultures’ approach. Higher Education, 67(2), 155–169. doi:10.1007/s10734-013-9652-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kennedy, T. J. T., & Lingard, L. A. (2006). Making sense of grounded theory in medical education. Medical Education, 40(2), 101–108. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2929.2005.02378.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Macdonald, R., & Joughin, G. (2009). Changing assessment in higher education: A model in support of institution-wide improvement. In G. Joughin (Ed.), Assessment, learning and judgement in higher education (pp. 1–21). Rotterdam, Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Meyer, L. H., Davidson, S., McKenzie, L., Rees, M., Anderson, H., Fletcher, R., et al. (2010). An investigation of tertiary assessment policy and practice: Alignment and contradictions. Higher Education Quarterly, 64(3), 331–350. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2273.2010.00459.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Norton, L., Norton, B., & Shannon, L. (2013). Revitalising assessment design: What is holding new lecturers back? Higher Education, 66(2), 233–251. doi:10.1007/s10734-012-9601-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Norton, L., Richardson, T. E., Hartley, J., Newstead, S., & Mayes, J. (2005). Teachers’ beliefs and intentions concerning teaching in higher education. Higher Education, 50(4), 537–571. doi:10.1007/s10734-004-6363-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Offerdahl, E. G., & Tomanek, D. (2011). Changes in instructors’ assessment thinking related to experimentation with new strategies. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(7), 781–795. doi:10.1080/02602938.2010.488794.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Patton, M. Q. (1999). Enhancing the quality and credibility of qualitative analysis. Health Services Research, 34(5 Pt 2), 1189–1208.Google Scholar
  17. Postareff, L., Virtanen, V., Katajavuori, N., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2012). Academics’ conceptions of assessment and their assessment practices. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 38(3–4), 84–92. doi:10.1016/j.stueduc.2012.06.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Price, M., Carroll, J., O’Donovan, B., & Rust, C. (2011). If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here: A critical commentary on current assessment practice. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(4), 479–492. doi:10.1080/02602930903512883.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Quesada-Serra, V., Rodríguez-Gómez, G., & Ibarra-Sáiz, M. S. (2014). What are we missing? Spanish lecturers’ perceptions of their assessment practices. Innovations in Education and Teaching International. doi:10.1080/14703297.2014.930353.Google Scholar
  20. Sandelowski, M. (2010). What’s in a name? Qualitative description revisited. Research in Nursing & Health, 33(1), 77–84. doi:10.1002/nur.20362.Google Scholar
  21. Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action (Vol. 5126). New York: Basic books.Google Scholar
  22. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. M. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Los Angeles: Sage Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  23. Watkins, D., Dahlin, B., & Ekholm, M. (2005). Awareness of the backwash effect of assessment: A phenomenographic study of the views of Hong Kong and Swedish lecturers. Instructional Science, 33(4), 283–309. doi:10.1007/s11251-005-3002-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret Bearman
    • 1
  • Phillip Dawson
    • 2
  • Sue Bennett
    • 3
  • Matt Hall
    • 4
  • Elizabeth Molloy
    • 1
  • David Boud
    • 2
    • 5
  • Gordon Joughin
    • 6
  1. 1.Health Professions Education and Educational Research (HealthPEER)Monash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE)Deakin UniversityGeelongAustralia
  3. 3.School of EducationUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  4. 4.Faculty of EducationMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  5. 5.Professor EmeritusUniversity of Technology SydneyUltimoAustralia
  6. 6.Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE)GeelongAustralia

Personalised recommendations