Why Assess Innovatively?
If traditional assessment practices and instruments were working perfectly, there would be no need for innovative assessment. With something as crucial as assessment, it is essential that innovation is not approached lightly, or engaged in for its own sake. The future careers and lives of students are at stake, and the scope for experimentation must be carefully delineated and planned. Before justifying the need to assess innovatively, it is important to be convinced that traditional methods are not serving the purposes for which they were designed. In this chapter, we take a fresh look at the role of assessment in higher education, including discussion of the various client groups that assessment should be serving, and the needs of these groups. We then explore how some traditional approaches to assessment are failing, in that they are not measuring the intended learning outcomes that we claim are important for students to develop, and are often promoting surface approaches to learning. The ways that students perceive their learning, and the ways that academics perceive their teaching, are all significantly dependent on the nature and formats of assessment. Therefore, changing assessment can best be justified if the quality of both teaching and learning are improved as a result, and if the assessment itself can be shown to be demonstrably fairer, and better related to the intended learning outcomes. It is argued that assessment must play a better part in the ways that teachers teach and learners learn.
I will conclude with checklist questions about some of the principal factors that can be adjusted either separately or in combination, to form the basis of innovations in assessment. The questions aim to be an aid to fuel productive innovation, to counter the dangers of overassessment, and help to ensure that assessment may be used to promote deeper approaches to learning.