LINK is fundamentally concerned with assessment. the founding principles of the project are that:

  • Assessment is a primary motivator of student learning behaviour whether those students are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to study
  • Assessment is always about learning: students learn by doing assignments, not by doing something else and then being assessed
  • Assessment must combine scholarly / academic work which meets the needs of the university; creative and engaging short activities during the course of a unit of study; and realistic versions of the work that is to be done by graduates after they finish studying.

Because of these needs, the key focus of LINK is on assessment by portfolio. The goal of LINK is to come up with well-understood, theoretically sound approaches to the use of portfolios in each unit of study, with a particular concrete outcome being the development of appropriate documentation for students and teachers that explains what and how to do this kind of assessment.

Concerns about assessment as driver

While it is true that many students are driven by the need to achieve results through assessment, and thus attend most closely to, and learn most while doing, assessment, it is also the case that the anxiety around assessment, and competitive behaviour, can disinhibit learning. The desire to do well can overwhelm the need to learn (as for example in the case of plagiarism for fear of 'failing'). The fear of doing badly can prevent a student from actually learning. Competitiveness can inhibit otherwise valid and useful group work.

While assessment-as-driver is an important idea, it does also embody certain qualities of capitalist economics in which the value of something is determined by the price in the market. The marks available effectively become the marker of value, in the same way that price does, regardless of either intrinsic value, or value to the individual concerned. One aspect of online knowledge production to explore is the fact that the Internet, more than most other media, is governed by different economic models, such as gifting. While gifting is not altruistic, it is not the direct exchange of capitalism. Thus, students might well be motivated to learn by the opportunity to contribute, as much as what they might 'get out' of the assessment directly.

Finally, assessment always contradicts the teacher's capacity to collaborate with students, to some extent, for it brings into explicit focus the power relationships of student and assessor. The partnership of learning is suspened, at least for a while, until the assignments are marked. It is, essentially, a test of the degree to which the student and teacher have worked well together - for it the result is not as expected, then both feel let down.

Useful ideas

Contained assessment task - all information given; not all relevant; student need only decide which information to apply
Open assessment task - not all information given; student must decide which information must be found and from where

Convergent or divergent assessment - convergent = 1 right answer.

Some thoughts from students about assessment

Comments made at a recent ALTC Forum are instructive:

Students expect

  • fairness
  • recognition of effort
  • clarity of expectations of staff
  • competitiveness

In other words, students want individual excellence differentially rewarded, where excellence is both about process and result (trying hard is as valuable as achieving well, even if recognised differently), but they also want a sense of equity. Essentially, I think students' knowledge of assessment is driven by game-like behavioural norms - it's competitive and some will do better than others, but everyone must play by the rules and the rules must create a level playing field.


Notes about the difference between assessment and activities

Assessment by Portfolio

The term portfolio refers to the aggregated work of students in all forms of assessment that are NOT formal essays or similar tasks (eg writing summaries, or proposals etc). The 'portfolio' should not be confused with the more general use of the term to mean a kind of compendium of examples of learning and achievement across a degree. The 'portfolio' in net studies describes a mode of assessment involving students collating several examples of work done, within a unit, then presenting it for assessment in a format we determine, with a strong element of reflection and analysis. The two have similarities, but we cannot assume they are the same.

Within LINK, many kinds of work done by students for assessment (the knowledge production tasks, and the in-unit learning participation) will not be assessed as single standalone assignments (as we do with, say, essays or exams), but will need to be gathered together into a portfolio which, when contextualised by appropriate commentary and reflection, forms the 'assignment' to be graded. The portfolio is necessary for three main reasons:

  1. there is simply too much produced by students, in diverse forms and places, for a marker to assess all of it without some kind of collation, selection, and re-presentation for assessment
  2. the forms and processes of online knowledge production (e.g. regular commenting on blogs) and learning community participation (good discussion in forums, for example) don't lend themselves to direct assessability: these forms and processes need an intervening step before the work can be assessed: commentary and contextualisation become essential
  3. students learn most from this kind of work when they have to review, reflect and consider what they have achieved, what it means and how it might show improvement: thus reflection and analysis of the collated, contextualised work is itself part of the task.

So, essentially, a portfolio emerges from students first generating material, in the course of learning, and then performing three operations:

  • selection and collation
  • contextualising commentary
  • reflective analysis

The portfolio is 'all' of those things, presented as a single entity for assessment, with the assessment being as much to do with the operations (particularly reflective analysis) as the content generated.

What then goes into the portfolio?

In brief it is the output of two distinct activities:

  1. External knowledge production tasks that lead to a real-world output, available on the Internet either on a site that is created and maintained by
    1. the student, as part of their web presence (what we can term 1st-party sites) - moderation of publication is by the student
    2. the Department of Internet Studies (2nd-party sites) - moderation of publication by Curtin
    3. other people using the Internet (3rd-party sites) - which are either moderated or unmoderated depending on those 3rd parties
  2. In-unit learning participation activities which are conducted within the bounds of the 'learning community' of students and teachers
    1. Online discussion, of a general or focused nature
    2. A small number of specified tasks, both individual and collective, involving 'doing something' and sharing material

Compare the different kinds of work produced by external contribution and internal participation

Portfolio Creation

More details on portfolio creation.

Assessment and web presence

The Concept of Web Presence

Students will create for themselves a web presence. This presence is not assessed directly. Rather, the outputs from tasks which - when published online - form the student's web presence, serve as the raw material from which the portfolio is, in large part, assembled. Therefore, web presence and portfolio are not equivalent: the web presence develops and exists as a separate output, parts of which then go into the portfolio. Moreover, some things that go into the portfolio do not form part of the student's web presence. Thus, while students will develop over the course of the degree a more and more sophisticated web presence, only at key times, and in ways we specify will that then provide some of the content of the portfolio.

Assessment and 'real-world' knowledge

Assessment normally serves a key goal: to assess learning, so as to enable students to be graded according to how well they have achieved the learning outcomes. Achieving the learning outcomes is seen as preparing the students for work or life outside of the artificial constraints of study. So, assessment indirectly prepares students, but only in the sense that the study students do is the real preparation and assessment 'tags on' as either the driver of that preparation (ie without assessment they won't learn) or the discriminator of preparation (ie some are better prepared than others, as evidenced by grades).

But it is also possible for assessment to prepare students for activities they will conduct in the real world (where real is defined as the world outside of the university) directly. Assessment tasks to be completed by students, in this approach, are parallels of, or components of, things that they will need to do professionally upon graduation. In other words, assessment can be, perhaps needs to be, realistic.

The essay is very realistic - but only where 'real' is udnerstood to be the academy - the essay as preliminary version of scholarly paper. The exam is archetypically not realistic at all. The oral presentation is real in the sense that most activities after graduation involve oral presentations. What are other forms of asessable work which are realistic to the online knowledge environment?

Critically, though, the criteria for assessment shift when we move to realistic assessments, since the reality of 'good performance' is not determined by university norms, but those from the reality which is being brought into the university.

Note: artificial, non-realistic assessment tasks are also useful because they provide a space for innovation, experiment and permit different kinds of criteria for assessment. Not all assignments should be realistic.

Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessment is a jargon phrase, but useful. It implies that authenticity is generated out of the degree of perceived relevance of the assessment task to the real-world context which it mimics, or prepares students for. Authenticity of this kind appears 'more' authoritative than the lecturer / educational institution's authority because of this connection.

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