The Experience of Innovative
Liz McDowell and Kay Sambell
There has been considerable diversification in the methods of assessing student learning in higher education in recent years. Few courses in the UK now rely solely on the conventional finals examinations supplemented by essays or, in scientific subjects, laboratory reports. The diversity of assessment practice is well illustrated by the survey carried out in Scotland by the ASSHE project (Hounsell et al. 1996). There are a growing number of texts from various parts of the world reviewing alternative assessment practices (for example Cross and Angelo 1988; Birenbaum and Dochy 1996; Brown et al. 1997). Other authors focus on specific aspects or forms of assessment, such as self-assessment and peer assessment (Boud 1995), profiles (Assiter et al. 1992) or group-based tasks (Thorley and Gregory 1994).
Examples of alternative or innovative assessment which are now recognized are described elsewhere in this volume in Chapters 1 and 8. In many cases, new forms of assessment have been introduced because of some sense of dissatisfaction with conventional assessment methods among academics and other stakeholders such as employers and professional bodies. There is a view that a broader range of assessment methods may provide a more accurate representation of students' knowledge and understanding, that alternative approaches may be more appropriate to the kinds of abilities now demanded of graduates and that this may also enhance learning and teaching (Brown and Knight 1994).
We may be moving from a testing culture into a new assessment culture as suggested by Birenbaum (1996). One of the main changes which she identifies as part of the new assessment culture, is the integration of assessment, teaching and learning, replacing the view of testing as a separate function which takes place after teaching and learning have occurred. She also perceives a shift in the role of students; they are seen as active participants in both learning and assessment rather than being the 'victims' of the assessor. A further major change is in the nature of assessment tasks which