With the Bologna Process, the renewed framework in the curricula has brought about changes with implications for teaching, learning and assessment methodologies, considered key issues to achieve pedagogical excellence in higher education.
On one hand, this "new" 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). Within this context, and after the Bologna process, the engineering curriculum was restructured and new teaching methodologies were introduced such as student-centered methodologies and project-based work, among others.
On the other hand, pedagogical innovation in higher education is a key issue in the educational priorities of Portugal and Europe. 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 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).
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).
In regard to students’ perceptions, 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).
Therefore, there is a need for further research in this area in higher education, particularly in the Portuguese context. Also, there is a need to reflect about the implications and potential of AfL approaches in the teaching and learning process and also in the academic outcomes in higher education, since the assessment practices may or may not be responsible for a set of learning really meaningful, powerful and transformative (MacLellan, 2001).
It is within this framework that the present study was carried out.
Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2002). Working inside the black box: Assessment for learning in the classroom. London, UK: King’s College London School of Education. Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2005). Assessment for Learning. Putting it into practice. England: Open University Press. Carless, D. (2005). Prospects for the implementation of assessment for learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 12(1), 39-54. Cassidy, S. (2011). Self-regulated learning in higher education: identifying key component processes. Studies in Higher Education, 36(8), 989-1000. Flores, M. A., & Veiga Simão, A. M. (2007). Competências desenvolvidas no contexto do Ensino Superior: a perspetiva dos diplomados. In V Jornadas de Redes de Investigación en Docencia Universitaria, 4-5 junho 2007. Alicante. Gipps, C. (1994). Beyond testing: Towards a theory of educational assessment. London: Falmer Press. MacLellan, E. (2001). Assessment for Learning: The differing perceptions of tutors and students. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 26(4), 307-318. McDowell, L., Sambell, K., & Davison, G. (2009). Assessment for learning: A brief history and review of terminology. In C. Rust (Ed.), Improving student learning through the curriculum (pp. 56–64). Oxford, UK: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development. McDowell, L., Wakelin, D., Montgomery, C., & King, S. (2011). Does assessment for learning make a difference? The development of a questionnaire to explore the student response. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(7), 749-765. Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218. Reimann, N., & Wilson, A. (2012). Academic development in ‘assessment for learning’: the value of a concept and communities of assessment practice. International Journal for Academic Development, 17(1), 71-83. Trigwell, K., Prosser, M., & Waterhouse, F. (1999). Relations between teachers’ approaches to teaching and students’ approaches to learning. Higher Education, 37(1), 57–70.
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