Department of Computer Science, School of Computing
Bimlesh shares her experience in experimenting with a flexible formative assessment approach and its benefits and limitations for student learning and the teaching team.
With the increasing demand for personalised learning in higher education, flexibility in assessment practices should be explored. This means moving away from traditional models where the lecturer decides when and how students are assessed. I want my students to learn, get feedback, and revise as they do the tasks.
In this post, I share my experience in experimenting with a flexible formative assessment approach, Own Time Own Target (OTOT), in a graduate level module at the School of Computing at the National University of Singapore. It is well-subscribed with many full-time research students and working adults doing the module part-time who often have to juggle between work and studies to meet assessment deadlines.
OTOT design follows two guiding principles: flexibility and empathy. It offers flexibility in terms of task type, timeline, and the choice of tools. In this design, students can submit a task anytime during the semester with small incremental incentives offered to encourage them to stay organised and well-paced. Task categories are designed with a variety of delivery modes, for example, short report, video and presentation while task types include research, writing, use of tools, and coding. Students have to choose six tasks, typically 3% each, from the list shown in Figure 1. The total weightage for the OTOT activity takes up 25% of the course grade.
Based on findings from student perception surveys and informal tutor chats, both students and assessors benefited from such a scheme. Students could focus on the learning process instead of rushing to meet deadlines. They could select a doable task which corresponds to their learning stage and arrange their submission dates around other deadlines they might have. They were also less anxious. For example, students stuck overseas due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and did not have good access to information, or had to delay learning for a few weeks, still had the opportunity to complete and submit their assignments.
My tutors found the marking process for OTOT activities more varied and interesting and enjoyed the added benefit of a more spread-out marking load. They also reported having constant OTOT activity-related student interaction throughout the semester instead of just before assessment deadlines.
I also noted that there are some weaknesses to this approach. For example, supporting students in developing the skills they needed for various tasks was a challenge for the teaching team because students were doing different tasks at different dates. A few students acknowledged that they needed better time management and organisation to succeed with such a flexible scheme. It was also very difficult to gauge how well the cohort was learning. Many students overloaded themselves, and assessor(s), with work by doing more than six tasks. Some students also procrastinated and their work piled up until the last week of the semester; as such, they could not benefit from the feedback given for earlier tasks which could have helped them improve on subsequent tasks and other assignments.
Going forward, I intend to improve the OTOT approach by finding a balance that works best for my content, students, and teaching team. I plan to ask students to do an “assessment plan” which includes tentative submission dates, highlighting any personal learning difficulties and their preferred feedback mechanisms. I believe flexible assessments can assist students with managing their workload and also help them become more independent and self-regulated learners.
Bimlesh WADHWA is a Senior Lecturer and Assistant Dean (Student Life) at the School of Computing. She is passionate about teaching and believes in assessment for learning. Her teaching subjects include software engineering, human-computer interaction, and information visualisation. Her research interests cover a wide range of computing education topics, with particular focus on feedback in assessment, and assessment of computational thinking.
Bimlesh can be reached at email@example.com.
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