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Students Becoming their Own Best Assessors

Dr. Razia Fakir Mohammad*

Aga Khan University, Institute for Educational Development, Pakistan

*Corresponding Author:
Dr. Razia Fakir Mohammad
Assistant Professor, Aga Khan University,
Institute of Educational Development Pakistan
E-mail: razia.fakirmohammad@aku.edu

Received Date: 06/04/2017; Accepted Date: 09/04/2018; Published Date: 09/11/2018

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Abstract

The discussion in this paper is rooted in the theoretical underpinnings that learning is bifocal – it is a social as well as an individual process and that assessment is integral to the learning process. Equalising self and peer assessment along with a tutor assessment, co-assessment, and invites learners to seek and interpret evidence of assessment - learners identify where they are in their learning and what actions for improvement are required. This form of assessment should influence not only the present activities but should enable improvements in future work of a similar nature. International research has demonstrated that using assessment to support teaching and learning can result in significant improvements. Assessment is an integral component of teaching and learning at any formal education level. The argument in this paper coincides with a worldwide emphasis on the use of assessment to improve learning rather than to solely focus on measuring student achievements during narrowly defined and conducted tests.

Keywords

Learning process; Peer assessment

Introduction

Therefore co-assessment recognizes and integrates the aspects of social learning element in assessment, merits further understanding and development as an educational practice. My theoretical position on the collaborative approach to assessment has been developed through my participation in a professional development course in United Kingdom. The importance of, and implications for establishing coherent links among teaching, learning and assessment are explored in this paper reporting the findings of an exploratory research study designed to understand the usefulness and applicability of co-assessment. Following on my theoretical learning, I designed a small scale research to examine how co assessment works in learning context. The data includes research participants’ oral and written responses, and the sample of peer and self-assessment work. The findings illuminate that co-assessment is a highly cognitive, reflective, and mutually negotiated process.

Theoretical Framework

Transforming student learning from viewing them as part of the receiving and/or performing end of the learning continuum to developing their capacity and aptitudes for independent, reflective and self- regulated learning is essential for their success in the upcoming era [1]. From studying the effect of “wash back” or “backwash”, Biggs (1995) addresses that assessment has impact not only on the curriculum but also on teachers’ pedagogical methods and students’ learning habits. Therefore, one can assume that in order to promote students’ independent learning skills, assessment plays a role important. Literature regarding student engagement in construction and deconstruction of new knowledge, developing critical thinking skills, and on-going reflection discusses the role of assessment to promote a sense of ownership and commitment, and to develop skills for self-regulated learning [2]. This illustration is at the heart of reform in assessment practices at any level of formal education around the globe.

A principal aim of educational assessment is to promote students’ self-regulated learning [3]. Nicol et al. (2006) recommend that if students are given shared responsibilities to foster their learning, then, they should be given increased responsibilities for assessment. Students become productive learners when they experience self and peer assessment [4]. Hence, if improvement in learning is to take place, students require holding a concept of quality roughly similar to that held by their teacher [5].

It is argued that traditional assessment methods promote students’ expectations to acquire certain knowledge and skills around the course of their study and mainly determines ‘who is granted a privilege such as admission or graduation’, but is not congruent with or does not address the mandate to support the meaningful learning as per standard goals of education [6]. Sadler (1989) argued that assessment the assessment data has ‘not necessarily [been used] in a helpful or informed manner [7]. It is agreed that assessment should not be viewed as a means to transfer comments from a teacher to a student, and/or a teacher rationale to make a judgment on examined course work. Conversely, assessment data needs to be used ‘by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there’ (Assessment Reform Group, 2002, p. 2) [8]. Hence, assessment is not only for the use of summative purposes - a means to measure learning outcomes, transfer comments from a teacher to a student, and/ or serve as a teacher rationale to make judgment on an examined course work. Rather, it is an intellectually collaborative process in which elements, such as discourse, power, and emotion, impact on how messages can be interpreted [9]. In order to address the issue of a singular authority in assessment, the co-assessment invites teacher-student collaborative partnership, with an aim to achieve a shared understanding of what and how to learn and assess. It is defined, in the current literature, as a type of assessment in which students and teachers mutually negotiate and review the tasks completed by the students [10]. Students assessing their learning experiences and outcomes; recognizing the points reached in development through a tutor/peer or self-feedback constitutes co-assessment.

Feedback is at the heart of co-assessment - it has been discussed as a process of information and/or assessment discourse whereby students are able to identify the gaps between desired goals and their present state of learning in order to take the required action to bridge that gap and/ or produce improved course work as per required expectations [11]. It is important to recognize that students and tutors’ collaborative attempts in assessment are not meant to establish common agreement on the final judgment always. The key outcomes are students co-constructing both learning and educational and professional standards [12]. Good feedback communicates student progress and directs their subsequent efforts to accomplish deep learning and promotes student learning ownership and commitment in which they understand learning objectives and are able to find ways to achieve those objectives independently and collaboratively with peers and teachers. Effective use of feedback also includes teachers and other related stake holders’ elicitation, analysis and actions to make learning and teaching effective [13].

Since students’ participation is at the center of co-assessment, research has found it to be highly beneficial. It has been found that student involvement in assessment dialogue, while discussing and developing a shared understanding of assessment criteria with tutors, discussing assessment work together, enable them to understand and meet the learning expectations, improve their learning performance as well as value their identity in the learning endeavor [14]. It promotes deep learning because students’ engagement in assessment improves their understanding of the task. Co-assessment invites and involves tutors, peers and students in discussion on what and how was learned, and leads to a greater mutual understanding of nature and use of the assessment, and thus can make the assessment process more responsive, sociable and transparent [15]. It is an attempt to indulge self, peer and tutor assessment- where a student, peers and the teacher, all participate mutually in the feedback process to discover and attempt deeper learning. The co-assessment claims that a linear and hierarchal approach to assessment has failed to promote students’ self- regulated learning skills. Hence co-assessment is a way of engaging and helping students unfolding learning experiences, and becoming their own best assessors. If improvement in learning is to take place, students need to hold a concept of quality roughly similar to that held by their teacher.

With this theoretical backdrop the approach, taken is one of self-inquiry to develop an understanding of how students view productivity of co-assessment in their learning practices.

The Research Context and Data Collection

A small scale qualitative research was conducted, as a self-learning agenda, to understand the use and educational worth of co-assessment. Qualitative research enabled the researcher, as a tutor, to discover perceptions through the students own experiences, judgments and understanding when they talk about their experiences of self and peer assessment (Robson, 2003). The data was collected through the students’ individual written and verbal reflective notes as well the work which they assessed [16]. Five students participated in this exploration. Since it was my first attempt to unpack co-assessment in practice; there were two underlying aims of this intervention namely to ascertain whether:

• peer and self-assessment increases students’ understanding of the work and in return improve self-assessment skills

• students’ involvement in assessment enables them to make professional judgments about own and others’ work

The students were participants of a graduate level teacher education program. As per the program requirements, the students submitted their research proposals for formal approval, prior to commencing the required fieldwork; the research proposals are assessed and judged by the research supervisor [17]. With the new exploratory research agenda each proposals were then assessed independently and simultaneously by the co-assessors: the tutor, a peer and the student. The individual-assessed exercise was followed by the tutor and individual student discussion on the student’s self-review, peer review of his/ her work and the tutor feedback. The group of students, who were participating in the study, provided their consent to examine their views and experiences with regards to them understanding and refining their co-assessment practices [18].

Attempting co-assessment as an alternative assessment approach, the following steps were considered:

• Developing an understanding of self/peer assessment, and willingness to work and spend the time required for self and peer assessment (including reading; reviewing, providing feedback and offering final judgment, time for discussion)

• Discussions on the ethics of assessment i.e., confidentiality, criterion based, authentic feedback)

• Developing a rubric to be used by self, peers and tutors

• Setting deadlines for self and peer assessment as well as follow-up discussions

Findings and Analysis: Opportunities and Challenges of Co-Assessment

Self-assessment as self- learning: Overall, the students found their participation in the self and peer assessment process very relevant and beneficial in terms of understanding and improving their research proposals. Self-assessment exposed them to being a reviewer– positioning themselves as an outsider to attempt the assessment neutrally. Along with judging the strengths and weakness of own work, they were adding substance to improve the missing elements or gaps identified. This demonstrates that while reviewing own work they were simultaneously involved in improving or planning to improve their work [19]. Self-assessment allowed them to make deliberate efforts to critically review the work against given criteria and thus opened up ways to receive and incorporate self–feedback simultaneously.

‘While I was engaging with my own research proposal, I decided to look at it from an outsider's lens so I could separate myself from the paper and analyze any vague statements or any points that needed further clarification, as this is something I know I struggle with. Through this self-reflection, I was able to thoroughly edit my paper while focusing on my weak points, and take a wider view to analyze the fluidity of my work’.

‘It was helpful in developing understanding regarding the assignment. It was helpful to have a rubric that guided my search. It allowed me to look back on my own work and focus on the problems and links.’

Interpretation of criteria and subjectivity in assessment, from a singular perspective, has been viewed as major concerns in traditional assessment practices; the findings suggest that self-assessment enables the students to better understand the criteria and validate their own judgment [20]. When they apply the criteria to analyze the work, they better understand the standards to be achieved; and were motivated to take actions for improvement. Since the gaps and strengths were self-evaluated; the comfort level of accepting gaps and motivation for closing the gaps identify get high. Also, receiving feedback and using feedback were concurrent and thus appear to maximize the potential function of feedback. Self-assessment gave the confidence to judge what they achieved and what to be done further, which in turn promote sense of ownership in assessment and self- accountability [21]. Overall, self-assessment was recognized as a learning tool; where student learn to evaluate their own work, make self- judgment, and attempt improvement.

Peer assessment as self/ peer learning: Peer assessment served dual functions. It was seen as a mirror to view their own work against that of the co-partner’s, and identify a pathway for further improvement. While providing feedback to their peers, they found themselves comparing their own work in terms of seeking what was missing in their own work – thus, giving feedback to self and peer occurred simultaneously. The findings suggest that peer review provided them with an additional framework to assess and improve their own research proposal. Peer review and self-assessment were seen as naturally linked.

‘I found the peer review process to be very beneficial as I was able to look at someone else's research proposal and compare it to mine, although this was not the sole intention. It allowed me to take a critical lens as I was looking at the MA criteria, and correlate the proposal's qualities to that of the rubric. While I was reviewing, I couldn't help but compare it to mine, seeing how a peer did their lit review or defined their rationale, which allowed me to highlight their strengths and carry over that perspective onto my research. I particularly liked analyzing the rationale, as I knew this was a weak point in my proposal, so I was able to see another example and modify my own.

‘The process of reading and giving feedback was extremely useful as it was a process where I was constantly reflecting on my own proposal. It helped me to become aware of the areas that I considered differently and also of aspects where my own work needs to be improved.’

It is interesting to see two fold learning embedded in the peer assessment. In the self-assessment, the proposal review checklist assisted them to identify strengths and weaknesses; while with peer assessment they had their co-partners’ work as an example to further visualize their own strengths and identify the missing areas as well as need for further substantial work, if necessary [22]. The peer assessment simultaneously engaged them in further unpacking the proposal review criteria and better judging their own work.

Additionally the students were mainly positive about the feedback received from the peers; the peer feedback identified the areas which were missed out from the self-review process and it validated self and tutor feedback.

This was very helpful because it allowed me to get concrete expectations on what was strong work and what was not. Before this I felt that the instructions were not as focused.

It was interesting to note that while my peer’s feedback focused on some aspects that I mentioned in my self-assessment (e.g. the need to better formulate my research questions), but had not realized that the background still needs to be more focused [23]. I will definitely look into this.

Self-learning agenda over peer learning: The findings indicate that improvement of own work remained dominant as compared with peer assessment. For example, the students, who received and/or found their work stronger than the co-partner’s work, did not see the peer review process useful and relevant. Rather, they found it as a more confusing and unhelpful exercise [24]. Additionally, students sensed that if the purpose of peer review was peer development then it should have been introduced at the early stage of developing the research proposal and should have been integrated with the on-going learning routine and discussions.

It didn’t help me much; instead it made me uncomfortable to give feedback and added on the burden to other work. Also, it seemed unfair that the other tutors group were exempt from this practice.

I appreciated this approach, particularly the peer feedback, as it allowed me a more robust process of reflection on my research. However, I would have liked for this to be conducted earlier in the term when I was focusing on creating my research proposal [25]. Perhaps a forum to discuss these thoughts and a preliminary edit of our proposals prior to their submission?

Additionally, an issue of a peer holding strong or weak conceptual authority caused a sense of unease in a few cases. The student, with weak work, when assessing the strong proposal, appreciated the experience in terms of finding out their missing elements but also expressed negative feelings about the peer review on his/ her work.

My involvement was fine. I found that the peer feedback was quite weak and did not help me at all.

I don't think each student must receive it. We all learn differently. Additionally some peer feedback is more valuable than others. It feels like a waste of time when the peer does a poor job at giving feedback.

It is important to recognize that the essence of peer assessment requires a high level of understanding of peer review itself, and cooperative learning relationships and attitude. Since it was the students’ first formal experience with regard to self and peer assessment, they may not have achieved a level of trust and collaboration to review the assessment beyond the self-learning agenda. Additionally, it could be an issue of the limited scope of this research. The students accepted the invitation to participate in self and peer assessment but did not receive a strong theoretical orientation [26]. The findings suggest that peer feedback should have been used as an exploration and dialogue instead of a comment on the end product, where peers discover insights through mutual discussions into the written comment.

I appreciated this approach, particularly the peer feedback, as it allowed me a more robust process of reflection on my research. However, I would have liked for this to be conducted earlier in the term when I was focusing on creating my research proposal. Perhaps a forum to discuss these thoughts and a preliminary edit of our proposals prior to their submission?

The students realized that the collaborative assessment provided them with opportunity for learning; it led to self-analysis, confidence and responsibility to improve the work. However, tensions arose due to the time chosen for the co-assessment as it was partially summative task [27]. They could not decide how to use multiple feedbacks effectively at the stage when final submission of assignment had already done. They proposed that their involvement in the co-assessment was more beneficial if this experience was infused in at the stage of proposal development.

Tutor assessment for learning: Since students went through two extensive review processes: self and peer, they did not share detail responses on the utility of the tutor’s feedback for their learning. It is also important to mention here self, peer and tutor feedback appear aligned, which in other words address issues of accuracy in overall judgment. Also, perhaps, the students’ intensive involvement in the assessment minimize tutor as a final authority in assessment - three feedbacks occurred simultaneously and independently; the role of tutor feedback remained rather less active [28]. This indicates that co-assessment shares power of assessment –when students are given responsibility for the assessment they become more accountable to lead their learning, as well use the tutor feedback confidently to compare their own feedback rather than accept it as a final judgment.

The peer and self-feedback allowed me to reflect on what I have written so far and on the reasons why I made some choices. What is particularly important is that this reflection is not just going back and looking at my paper, but I have looked at my decision with a critical stance. The feedback that the tutor provided was presented in a clear manner that was concise, but allowed me to engage with a self -perspective, and validated some of the feedback I had received from myself and peer as well.

It is important to recognize here due to the students’’ active engagement in the self and peer assessment they were able to judge the validity of the tutor’s feedback.

Discussion

This paper indicates that students’ involvement in assessment dialogue, such as discussing and developing shared understanding of assessment criteria with tutors, discussing assessment work together, enabled them to understand and meet the learning expectations, improve their learning performance as well as value their identity in the learning endeavor [29]. Moreover, students assessing their learning experiences and outcomes, as well as recognizing the points reached in their development through a tutor/peer or self-feedback constituted them becoming best assessors of own learning.

My analysis is that the combination of self, peer and tutor assessment invites a co learning partnership (Author, 2002) between a tutor and students, students and students and a student with self [30]. My inference is that if co-assessment practices are integrated with on-going learning routines and tasks, the potential function of feedback could be achieved and the purpose of educational assessment to drive self-regulated learning be attempted.

The analysis suggest that the threat of singular authority/power of assessment impeding learning could be reduced through co- assessment practices, combining a tutor assessment with peer and self -assessment. Student participation in assessment provides them best experience of learning and result in best learning outcomes. The outcomes, here, refer to development of student’s cognitive and metacognitive skills as well as raising high self-esteem and confidence [31]. My analysis indicates that student engagement in assessment is crucial to provide them with emotionally secure, intellectually stimulated and socially conducive learning environment at any level of education. Learners fulfilling the examination regulation, waiting for the feedback and/or assessment report from a single authority may enable them to achieve their academic qualification, but it may not nourish successful learning. Schleicher’s (2015) highlights a great need to reform school policies and practices at all levels so as to nurture innovation in creating 21st-century learning environments: today’s schools need to prepare students to live and work in a world in which most people will need to collaborate with people whose ideas, perspectives and values are different from their own; a world in which people need to decide how to build trust and sustain collaboration across such differences, often bridging space and time with technology; a world in which individual lives will be affected by issues that transcend national boundaries.

This cannot be achieved with limited function of assessment which is summative. Learning is not simply an isolated cognitive activity but also includes social and emotional dimensions. Hence the social element in assessment is relevant and inevitable for establishing strong linkages among teaching, learning and assessment. Thus, developing assessment partnerships among the key stakeholders is a necessity to maximize a shared mandate of assessment and learning. Shared feedback, through coassessment, communicates student progress and directs their subsequent efforts to accomplish deep learning and promote student learning ownership and commitment in which they understand learning objectives and are able to find ways to achieve those objectives independently and collaboratively with peers and teachers. It is important to mention that students may need to develop skills and motivation to take share responsibility of assessment to achieve its real essence [32]. And, I agree with Sambell, et al (2012) who state, ‘…it may no longer be sufficient to leave students to learn by chance, or assume they already possess the requisite dispositions, skills and qualities to judge work’. However, my analysis is that such skills and understanding are established when students involvement in self and peer assessment is integrated in their on-going learning routines and tasks. The learning benefits then, not only develop thorough a shared understanding of assessment but also increase the ability and desire to understand and use the feedback effectively and work collaboratively (as discussed in Boud & Molloy, 2013; Bloxham & Campbell, 2010). If, we, teachers, involve our students consistently with self and peer feedback, the level of rigor in co-assessment will increase over time.

My theoretical position is that co-assessment must be introduced as a functional learning scaffold at an early stage, so as to engage students in reflective discourse about where the students are, where they gradually need to go and what more is required of them to get there and how [33]. With this theoretical position, my view point is that feedback is not an end in communication and assessment is not a singular authoritarian task; assessment must be planned, used and analyzed both, by the students and the tutors to reclaim traditional assessment as a more sustainable, authentic and purposeful phenomena. Inclusion of care and professional ethics in our approach to individual and/ or collaborative assessment attempts is important. Both the partners, students and tutors need to critically and carefully reflect on what is assessed and also how it is communicated to and understood by students; how students feel about their learning and whether they see it as a smooth progression and development. Assessment is a highly cognitive, reflective and ethical activity [34]. We, community of teachers, must ask deeper questions about our professional knowledge, understanding, skills and practice, and examine our own behavior and code of conduct to respond to the reform of assessment and feedback practices constructively.

Conclusion

It is important to recognize that co assessment establishes interdependence and interconnection between assessment and learning explicitly. Hence, assessment and learning, within their unique roles, involves all the processes and products, which are used to describe and analyze the nature and the extent of students’ participation to make valid inferences about their learning progress. As a method for gathering evidence, assessment can embrace many kinds of evidence-gathering procedures, including standardized large scale tests and teacher-designed examinations/tests, projects, demonstrations, portfolios, and specially designed assignments embedded in regular courses. However, in the absence of students’ participation in analyzing their learning progress, it would be clearly difficult to know whether the intended results are being achieved as planned, what corrective actions may be needed to ensure the delivery of the intended results, and whether initiatives are making positive contributions towards human development.

Co assessment rests on the assumption that education is a profound responsibility to perform; it is much more than a technical role in the formal education system. It is important to recognize that a teacher’s attempts to establish a self-regulated learning culture and its required skills cannot be achieved only through teachers using interactive pedagogical approaches, and providing one-way feedback. Learning is a social as well as an individual process; the learning flourishes when students are engaged in mutual assessment and follow-up conversation with regard to what they learned/ produced and how they did so; and allows them to mutually understand assessment expectations, outcomes and ways to move forward. Therefore, it should be viewed as a systematic and well integrated approach to be routinized in the teaching and learning process, and thus be considered as an important element in educational course/programmer planning.

References