Mapping assessment across programmes

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A programme-level approach to assessment

The assessment methods described in this toolkit offer a range of approaches to assessment. Having a mix of assessments should be a function of deliberation among members of the programme team over the best method to assess a particular area of knowledge, skill or attitude. Taking a programme-level approach to assessment means looking at the mixture of courses that students are likely to encounter and attempting to ensure that over the entire programme they have been assessed in a number of ways in line with the range of programme learning outcomes (LOs).

Why adopt a programme-level approach to assessment?

Given the fundamental role assessment plays in developing and measuring student learning, it is important to ensure that programme learning outcomes adequately capture the learning that is intended to take place across the programme and that these LOs are aligned to the assessment mix. A variety of assessments across the programme enables the assessment of the broad range of knowledge, skills (disciplinary and transferable) and disciplinary attitudes that students are developing on the programme. This is also likely to make for a more interesting, positive and productive learning experience for our students.

In addition, taking a programme-level approach helps to improve the student learning experience by:

 i.        Countering assessment overload (cramming too many/multiple assessment points at the individual courses).

ii.        Ensuring a balanced assessment load across courses.

iii.        Avoiding assessment logjams – an overload of assignments during particular weeks in the academic year, such as the reading week trap.

One useful way to put this programme-level approach into action is to undertake a curriculum-assessment mapping process.

What are the advantages of a curriculum-assessment mapping process?

While a curriculum-assessment mapping process may take some time and involve several iterations, it is an extremely valuable exercise enabling the programme convenor in consultation with other members of the programme team, and ideally students, to:

  • Establish a clear team-level understanding of learning and assessment across the entire programme as well as its component parts.
  • Visually map the learning outcomes, programme assessments and timings of assessments for staff and students alike.
  • Check whether there is a clear sense of progression in the levels of learning across the programme. The QAA’s Framework for Higher Education and the Subject Benchmark Statements are useful resources in this regard. This is important for all taught courses, but particularly at the undergraduate level.
  • Ensure there is a degree of parity in the assessment load across full and half unit courses.
  • Enable members of academic staff to be able to communicate a much clearer programme narrative to students with a clear indication of how the components part of the programme fit together and thus effectively support student learning.
  • Provide a useful tool for academic advisers and other members of academic staff for discussions with students as they are making course choices enabling them to map a journey/route through their chosen course of study. Some departments have created wordles as a result of their mapping processes.

Example: MSc European Union Politics (European Institute) 

 

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Who should participate in the curriculum-assessment mapping process?

Ideally the entire programme team as well as current students should participate or contribute to this process as it will open up opportunities for dialogue and exchange about the purpose of the programme; the student experience, and approaches to teaching, learning and assessment. If this is not possible the mapping exercise can be undertaken by the programme convenor, the convenor of core courses and the programme manager and others can feed into the process in different ways. In the case of joint programmes, members from all departments should be represented.

How to carry out an assessment mapping process?

A mapping review can be carried out in different ways. One possible model would be to carry out the following steps:

  • Prepare a comprehensive list of all the assessments (formative and summative) which students currently have to undertake on the programme.
  • Revisit the LOs of the programme and question whether they are a valid reflection of the learning on the programme as well as whether the current course combination options enable students to meet these outcomes. This will also enable the programme team to check for gaps, inconsistencies and untapped synergies. 
  • Map the different assessments (formative and summative) against the learning outcomes in order to:

(i) Identify more complementarities across different courses on the programme and allow members of the programme team to draw more links across courses in their teaching. 

(ii) Make appropriate choices about assessment diversification.

  • Create a timeline of assessment deadlines – enabling the programme team to evaluate the spread of assessment throughout the academic year and make changes with a view to ensuring a balanced workload for students in the course of the academic year.

 

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