Purposes > Support learning

Students learn in anticipation of assessment tasks and they learn from the tasks themselves. Some of this learning occurs from their own realisation of what they can or cannot do, but importantly, they also learn from the helpful comments provided to them by others. The role of assessment for learning, often called formative assessment, needs careful design and planning to ensure that: key learning outcomes are addressed; engagement in the task prompts the kind of learning most desired; the task is timed to ensure that there is an opportunity for students to benefit from the comments they receive; and that there is time within the semester to put their learning into practice in subsequent activities. Tasks that occur at the end of semester may be useful in providing a target for learning, but this is a particularly poor time to provide detailed comments on which students are expected to act. The design of engaging and challenging assessment tasks is one of the most important elements of planning a course. It may often be fruitful to plan these before other parts of the course are organised.

Assessment considerations:

  • What assessment tasks best encompass the key learning outcomes for the unit?
  • Will engagement in the task be a worthwhile learning activity in its own right?
  • What information should be provided to learners about what is expected of them and the standards they should meet? When, and in what form, should this information be provided?
  • What kinds of feedback information should be provided to learners following completion of the task? Who should provide this information? How promptly can it be realistically provided? How should it be structured?
  • If marks or grades are also given, how can the design optimise learner engagement with detailed comments rather than focus on grades?
  • On what specific occasions during the unit will students be able to apply what they have learned from completion of the task to subsequent work?

Also refer to:

Outcomes > Unit/module learning outcomes

Tasks > Rationale

Tasks > Activities which drive learning

Tasks > Distribution

Feedback processes > Multiple feedback opportunities

Feedback processes > Types of feedback information

Educator experiences

Organising the unit around tasks

When I realised that it is only through the work that students do themselves that they learn anything, I started to structure my unit around a series of key tasks. Some tasks are just things I provide strong encouragement for, others are tasks on which they get input from peers, and yet others are tasks I formally grade. I have found that so long as I don’t overload students at the wrong times with unrealistic activities, most students do them all whether they are graded or not. But I don’t sell them to students as added extras, I continually reinforce them as the core of the unit itself and the only way they will be able to learn what is needed. – Education lecturer


Staged early feedback

I’m a great believer in having students get lots of feedback early in the semester when it will do some good and spending very little time on it at the end. I’ve worked out which areas are the ones students have most difficulty within their assignments. Obviously, I have changed my teaching materials so they get extra support and examples in those areas. And I’ve put some self-tests online so they can check themselves. But in some areas this doesn’t work because the difficulty is students not being able to see the problems in their own writing. This is where they need more feedback. Some of it I do by getting students to swap papers with their peers, but I also have arranged the tasks in a sequence so I can see whether students have improved in the problematic areas in later tasks. – Education lecturer