How Can We Be More Learning-Oriented?

We give you an introduction to the ideas behind learning-orientation, including student engagement with feedback and evaluative expertise.

in Teaching + Learning
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The purpose of learning-oriented assessment is to strengthen students' learning processes and create more autonomous learners. It instils students with the awareness and strategies needed to become life long learners, equipping them with the skills necessary for the workplace and beyond. More specifically, it strives to develop evaluative expertise in students and encourages them to engage with feedback (Carless, 2014). While this ties naturally into formative assessment designs, we can work these elements into creating better summative pieces as well. Let's take a deeper look at these features of learning-oriented assessment, and how you can incorporate them into your next assessment design.

Design tasks to promote learning practices

Tasks that are aligned with the learning outcomes of a unit, and that satisfactorily allow students to progress towards these, are necessary for creating deep learning experiences for students (Biggs, 2014). Assessment designs should also have relevance to the real world or apply subject matter in a realistic setting. When considering how assessment fits into a unit as a whole, consider when tasks occur across the semester. Ideally, student attention should be spread out to create consistent engagement and learning opportunities.

Help students develop evaluative expertise

One of the most important skills students can develop through a course is self-awareness; in-particular the ability to self-regulate. This can only be developed, however, through an understanding of what high quality work is.

More than this, students need to understand the effort involved in creating work at this standard, as well as the learning process that follows.

This can be achieved by reviewing the grading criteria or discussing exemplary work. Students can develop these skills further by actively engaging with criteria through peer- or self-assessment tasks. It doesn't always have to be a formalised part of the assessment either. A few activities run in class can be enough to give students the confidence to form appropriate judgements of quality that they can bring into reflecting on their own work. For example, sharing an example assignment and assessing the work together is a good way for students to understand how you judge quality. By consistently building up a student's ability to self-assess, they become more likely to identify if they are on the right track and apply appropriate strategies to adjust their approach. 

Enable students to engage with feedback

For students to develop their own learning processes, they need to be able to understand and apply the feedback they receive. The real value comes in engaging with the feedback and using it to influence future work; that is, closing the feedback loop.

When the opportunity to act upon feedback is paired with a student's ability to self reflect and understand assessment criteria, it forms a powerful combination in promoting student learning. 

There are several ways your assessment design can be adapted to support engagement with feedback. An important factor in enabling engagement with feedback is the timing and structure of assessments. Scheduling assessments towards the end of a teaching period, especially highly weighted ones, doesn't leave much room for students to absorb and apply feedback. Instead, adopting a more continuous approach to assessment can provide students with opportunities to iterate on their work. Similarly, teachers can use learning activities as a way for students to receive feedback less formally. Verbal feedback during tutorials can be valuable in opening up a dialogue between teachers and students; further reinforcing expected standards and opportunities to improve (Sambell, Gibson, Montgomery, 2007).

There's no doubt that learning-oriented assessment requires changes to the way we teach and structure learning activities. However, with a better understanding of the small actions we can take to put learning at the heart of our teaching, we can work towards creating more self-aware and independent learners.

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