Using Assessment Strategically
to Change the Way Students
Assessment is the most powerful lever teachers have to influence the way students respond to courses and behave as learners. This chapter will use a case study of a radical change in assessment within an otherwise conventional course to analyse the functions of assessment and the dramatic ways in which students can be reoriented and their performance improved. The framework derived from this analysis is used to explain how a range of assessment innovations can change the way students learn, with examples of each. Details of how to implement some of these assessment methods are elaborated in other chapters. Here I will provide a rationale for choosing between these methods.
Much of what is presented as good practice in assessment is described in terms of tactics: specific techniques such as using criteria on feedback sheets to students. This chapter is about using assessment strategically, regardless of specific tactics, to achieve particular strategic goals. In order to see how to operate strategically, it is important to understand something of the changed context in which assessment in higher education is operating.
By the late 1990s, modules at Oxford Brookes University were designed in such a way that students were supposed to spend, on average, threequarters of their total learning time outside of class. In some final-year modules, especially project-based modules, they were supposed to spend nine-tenths of their time out of class. When the ratio of in-class to out-ofclass learning time is about 1 : 1 what happens in class exerts considerable leverage over what students do out of class. Preparation before tutorials or