Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Appears in Collections:eTheses from Faculty of Social Sciences legacy departments
Title: Changing assessment in higher education : policy, practice and professionalism
Author(s): Holroyd, Colin
Issue Date: 2003
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: The research reported in this thesis focused on the assessment of student learning in higher education. The study aimed to provide practitioners and policymakers with a research contribution which would increase understanding of change in student assessment by refining simple assumptions about the relationships among policy, practice and professionalism. The research was carried out in one Scottish university. One strand involved participant observation of a formal group, which had a remit to generate new assessment policy, and documentary analysis of its policy products. The second and major strand was based on semi-structured interviews with thirty-six assessment practitioners in four subject areas (chemistry, philosophy, medicine and design) chosen with the aid of a theoretical model to be as different as possible. These interviews sought the practitioner perspective on significant past changes in assessment (and the reasons for them) and on future changes desired or thought likely to be required. The data were analysed to provide answers to research questions, to identify emerging issues of concern to the participants and to explore imported issues which allowed inferences to be made about the conceptualisation of 'assessment-professionalism'. The policy group intended to deliver policy-products which would result in greater consistency of assessment practice across the University and generally to enhance assessment practice. It achieved three main things: agreement on a set of underpinning principles sufficiently broad to allow widely differing interpretations in different faculties/departments; the adoption of a Code of Practice dealing with administrative aspects of assessment and designed to make unacceptable practice less likely; the promotion of policy activity relating to assessment. Significant past changes were of four types, each associated with a different pattern of causal factors. The types were: evolutionary trends, policy-related shifts, in-course innovations and new-course introductions. The overall amount of assessment change was less than predicted from recent assessment literature. Local innovations within existing courses were very rare. The most striking assessment changes had occurred where new courses had been introduced. Practitioners did not identify policy as a major, direct factor bringing about past changes (except in policy-related shifts), but they expected policy to become more pervasive and prescriptive in future. Policy had a greater indirect influence in that it had sensitised staff to the priorities embedded within evolutionary trends and had required assessment to be considered as an integral part of course planning procedures. Emerging issues showed clear disciplinary differences, but there were common themes in most subject areas. Firstly, epistemological alignment (of assessment with the perceived nature of the subject) was more dominant than constructive alignment (of assessment with educational aims and methods). Secondly, staff were increasingly concerned about the integrity of their assessment methods. Thirdly, the burden of the assessment workload and its management were becoming severe worries. What interviewees said on the imported issues permits the following claims about their assessment professionalism. (a) Assessment was readily accepted as an implicit contractual obligation. (b) The high seriousness of assessment was acknowledged but not translated into sufficient time being made available for it. (c) Not all assessors possessed a desirable level of assessment expertise. (d) Assessment practice was not the subject of much critical reflection or creative thought. (e) Commitment to individual ethical action was high, but there was less commitment to communication and interactive professionalism. The research had some positive impact on both assessment policy-activity and on assessment practice. It contributes to our understanding of how academic staff can be encouraged to engage with important ideas and the links, `real' or imagined, between them. Participation in the research affected assessment in ways that policy did not. Future debate on assessment could helpfully centre on (i) the nature of, and effective responses to, student dishonesty in assessment(,i i) encouraging the frequency and depth of communication about assessment(,i ii) introducing sustainability into assessment and (iv) the regeneration of academic professionalism around the concept of the academic as educator and assessor. There is huge scope for further research in the area; it should include critical policy research, observational studies of professionalism-in-action and attention to the student perspective. The simple theoretical framework with which the research began was not abandoned, but was elaborated to emphasise that the causes of human action are not single and direct but multiple and interactive.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
Holroyd-Thesis-vol1.pdf11.68 MBAdobe PDFView/Open
Holroyd-Thesis-vol2.pdf15.97 MBAdobe PDFView/Open

This item is protected by original copyright

Items in the Repository are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.

The metadata of the records in the Repository are available under the CC0 public domain dedication: No Rights Reserved

If you believe that any material held in STORRE infringes copyright, please contact providing details and we will remove the Work from public display in STORRE and investigate your claim.