Feedback and assessment of learning

One important duty of a teacher is to assess and provide feedback of students’ learning processes and skills development. Assessment is carried out by reflecting the learning process and developed skills to the learning outcomes of a study unit, study module and degree. The assessment process is regulated by the Universities Act and the Universities of Applied Sciences Act, as well as the management and degree regulations of the universities.

More specific guidelines concerning the assessment process in the Tampere higher education community are presented in the institute-specific guidelines for student assessment .

Feedback

Giving feedback is an essential part of assessing the studies. When students receive their assessment, the feedback helps them understand the given grades. It supports them in becoming more self-reflective of their learning and practices, as well as in understanding their own learning in relation to the learning outcomes of the course and degree programme in general. Thus, feedback is mainly targeted at achieving the learning outcomes of the course and connected to the assessment criteria.

The traditional method of assessing the progress of skills is to ask the students to complete various assignments and examinations, and then grade their performance at the end of the study unit. However, the students should also be given feedback about their various activities during the study unit, so that they can have an understanding of their own study performance and learning process. The primary purpose of feedback is to correct, redirect and encourage the student’s learning process. Students seek to understand what is their level of know-how, skills and competences, what are their personal strengths, in what respect they have space to develop and how to develop. It is also important to make it clear to the students, how the materials available during the study unit can help them to develop their skills and perform the learning assignments.

In the best case the teacher is able to provide personal feedback to each student of their performance and learning. However, giving personal feedback in large student groups is not usually possible. In such cases, peer feedback or general feedback given to all students are possible methods. If peer feedback is used, the students need specific instructions on how to give feedback. Students need to be informed in advance how the peer feedback will affect the study unit’s assessment and whether it affects the assessment of the student receiving or giving it.

Directing effect of assessment

Giving assessment has multiple goals and purposes. For instance, assessment can be utilised to control that a certain level of learning has been achieved (e.g. summative assessment) or it can be utilised to direct and advance learning already during the learning process (formative assessment). Assessment can also be utilised to assess the level of learners already before the beginning of study unit (diagnostic assessment).

Summative assessment is understood as looking back at what has been learned and for instance how well the learning outcomes have been achieved. Exams held at the end of the study unit is one of the most common assessment methods that provides information for summative assessment. Summative assessment is usually done by the teacher. While summative assessment has its place in assessing and directing the learning process of students and providing information for the teacher of his/her teaching, it can be asked whether it supports the learning and teaching appropriately.

Formative assessment on the other hand is seen as an interactive assessment of students’ progress and learning as well as a way to adjust teaching. This means, that as the learning process is being assessed already during the study unit the student receives up-to-date information of his/her learning and, by receiving feedback in connection with assessment, is capable of directing his/her learning in relation to the learning outcomes.

The teacher on the other hand receives feedback of his/her teaching already during the study unit and is able to direct the classroom practices to better support the achievement of learning outcomes for instance. So, while providing formative assessment, teacher is able to see whether learning is taking place, what is being learned and what could be done differently. Students self-assessment and peer-assessment are ways to conduct formative assessment in addition to assessment done by the teacher. Other assessment methods can also be used. Formative assessment is also referred to as assessment for learning.

Diagnostic assessment as mentioned above is utilised with the attempt to assess the knowledge and competence level of learners already before the study unit begins. Through diagnostic assessment the students can become acquainted and recall what they already know about the theme, and the teacher becomes more aware of the starting level of the learners.

Using whatever assessment, it is important to create clear criteria for assessment. The objective of carefully articulated assessment criteria is to unify the assessment process of learning and competence. This also increases the transparency and predictability of learning and competence evaluation as well as the supports equal treatment of the students. In addition to this, shared assessment criteria provide the students with a tool for identifying and expressing their own competence and setting goals for their studies. Assessment also guides the study process.

Planning the mode of study and assessment

The learning outcomes of the study unit and the degree programme must be kept in the focus when planning assessment. Learning outcomes and assessment should actually be planned and developed hand-in-hand as much as possible (see constructive alignment). When planning assessment, key question to be asked is how can students demonstrate their skills, knowledge, competences etc. and how can they be assessed? If for instance an exam is the assessment method, what kind of an exam supports achieving the learning outcomes? Does achieving the learning outcomes require more than one type of assessment? Should self and peer assessment be included as well?

We should choose the mode of study of the study unit based on what best supports the students in achieving the learning outcomes. Learning the mode of study itself can be included in the unit’s learning outcomes as well. For example, if the study unit is to be completed by writing an extensive essay, it also offers the students an opportunity to learn about the structure and goals of an essay, as well as academic conventions, such as referencing guidelines.

Assessment criteria

At the start of the study unit, a student must always be aware of how a study unit’s mode of study will be assessed. The objectives of various written assignments are different, for example, and so are their assessment criteria. For example, when assessing an essay, its content is not the only thing that should be considered, instead the combining, analysing and application of information should also be examined. In comparison, a learning diary should demonstrate not only the student’s core competence in the field, but also how they have assessed and reflected on their learning process. The students must be aware of these assessment objectives before undertaking the study unit.

Assessment of study attainments

A study unit can be graded on a scale of 1–5 or as pass/fail. Assessment of study attainments must be reported in the curriculum, and no exceptions to it are allowed. The limits of a passed or failed performance must be defined in the study unit’s assessment principles. This can be based on factors such as the degree of knowledge required from the student to proceed in their studies after the unit or the necessary level of skills in their future profession.

TAMK

Study attainments are assessed on the competence scale excellent (5), very good (4), good (3), satisfactory (2), minimal pass (1) and fail (0). The marking pass ‘approved’ (S) can exceptionally be used if it has been separately stated in the study guide or individual study plan.

The Joint Assessment Framework forms the basis for competence assessment at TAMK. As a rule, assessment takes place by courses or study modules. The teacher in charge of the course implementation completes the assessment.

The student is entitled to be informed of the assessment criteria and methods at the beginning of the course. A more detailed description of the assessment can be found in the course implementation description.

Tampere University

Based on a decision made by Tampere University’s Provost (TUNI179/500/2018), assessment criteria for grades 1, 3 and 5 must be described in addition to study unit’s learning outcomes (read more detailed instructions from intra). It is crucial that a student always knows which assessment criteria are applied.

Learning analytics and pedagogical design

An assessment can also be partly based on utilising the opportunities offered by learning analytics. In the best case, analysing and visualising the digital traces left by a student can facilitate the provision of timely feedback and supporting the student in achieving their goals and developing their identity as an expert (Kleimola & Leppisaari 2020).

To get data for analysing (for instance from an online course or a course that utilises online learning platforms such as Moodle), the course should be built by applying a pedagogical design process, which makes the student’s actions and learning visible through various learning behaviours. (Hartikainen & Teräs 2020.) Pedagogical design helps bring performance-oriented analytics closer towards actual learning analysis. A concept used parallel to learning analytics – teaching analytics (Sergis & Sampson 2017) – highlights the teacher’s pedagogical skills and the important role of guidance along with assessment. When collecting and analysing the data, the perspective is on the teacher’s work, on developing the curriculum, learning materials and guidance activities (see Vainio 2018).

More information for staff

Assessment criteria

Elsewhere in TLC

Curriculum work

Links checked 23.2.2021