22 SES 04 C, Learning and Assessment
The Bologna Process has brought about changes in Higher Education within a renewed framework with implications for curriculum design and, consequently, for teaching, learning and assessment methods. This educational paradigm recognises the key role of students in their learning process based on autonomy, shared work and project-based work (Flores & Veiga Simão, 2007) and also the adoption of transdisciplinary knowledge, pedagogical innovation and student-centred education in order to achieve educational excellence in Higher Education (Esteves, 2008).
These are some of the key issues for highly competitive environments in universities and changes at the level of conceptions of teaching (Reimann & Wilson, 2012).
Pedagogical innovation in Higher Education is a key issue in the educational priorities in Portugal, Europe and elsewhere. In this context, the need for developing and evaluating Assessment for Learning (AfL) approaches in Higher Education has been pointed out to improve the teaching and learning quality in universities (McDowell et al., 2011). Seen as a pedagogical innovation (Gipps, 1994), the AfL approach has been considered “a teaching strategy of very high leverage” (Hargreaves, 2004, in Marshall & Drummond, 2006, p. 133). It emphasises formative assessment and continuous feedback mechanisms between teacher and student for adjustment of teaching strategies and learning activities (McDowell et al., 2009; Reimann & Wilson, 2012). Instead of meeting the purposes of accountability and certification, AfL practices promote students’ learning as a priority (Black et al., 2002). Thus learning results from significant learning experiences adjusted to students’ needs, rather than developing traditional activities and prescribed knowledge (Perrenoud, 1991).
McDowell, Wakelin, Montgomery, and King (2011, p. 750) describe AfL as an assessment environment that “is rich in formal and informal feedback; provides opportunities to try out and practice knowledge, skills and understanding; has assessment tasks which are authentic or relevant, assists students to develop independence and autonomy and has an appropriate balance between formative and summative assessment”.
The development and assessment of these practices implies the adoption of a wide array of assessment methods and less tests; feedback to report students’ strengths and weaknesses; opportunities to overcome weaknesses, to work in assessment in a collaboratively way and to carry out peer or self-assessment; sharing with students the goals of learning and the use of assessments tasks that enhance creativity and understanding, rather than memorization of knowledge (Carless, 2005).
Literature has shown that AfL practices stimulate students’ engagement in a more active way, providing them with more positive formative experiences, such as: greater teacher support, flexible curricular design, dialogue opportunities, peer learning and research opportunities (Black et al., 2005; McDowell et al., 2011).
Recent literature points to the need for higher acknowledgement about the relation between assessment and the teaching and learning process in Higher Education (Pereira, 2011), as well as the need for developing and evaluating AfL approaches in Higher Education (McDowell et al., 2011). Thus, there is a need for further research in this area in Higher Education, particularly in the Portuguese context. It is within this framework that the present study was carried out.
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