University of Sussex
Oprandi,_Paolo_Roberto.pdf (1.51 MB)

Supporting learning autonomy and curriculum coverage in university teaching: three case studies of formative assessment

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posted on 2023-06-08, 19:06 authored by Paolo Roberto Oprandi
This research investigates formative assessment at a UK research-intensive university, considering the aims and effects of their deployment. The research spans three academic disciplines broadly within the sciences and considers the influence of their history and culture on the approaches taken. It reports on three case studies originally chosen because of their innovative use of technology in teaching and assessment methods. Each case included mid-term summative assessments that were intended to have a formative function for the students. A triangulation of research methods was used that included documentary analysis, interviews and focus groups. Cultural historic activity theory was used to interrogate the data that emerged from the research. Bourdieusian theory was also used to understand and explain some of the findings. The thesis explores commonly held ideas about what constitutes desirable learning outcomes. It concludes that teaching and assessment practices do not always deliver on their promises nor support their intended objectives. Even within innovative educational methods it finds deeply rooted practices which fail to support the graduate skill sets that the tutors are hoping to develop in their students. It suggests that formative assessments which only reward curriculum coverage encourage narrow and conformist thinking and such thinking is at odds with the behaviours we should be developing within our educational environments. However, this thesis also describes educational practices that do meet their primary aims: to develop students’ learning autonomy whilst they cover the course curricula. These practices are constructed around formative assessments that build community within the student cohort, engage the students in authentic tasks requiring critical reflection and give students a chance to develop expertise within niche areas. The thesis suggests that these practices are applicable in all academic disciplines, independent of the subject, and provides approaches to teaching and assessment that encourage autonomous learning and develop high-level transferable skill sets. We all forget facts and procedures over time, and so it is our students’ capacity to know that we must develop within education.


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