What is assessment?

The essential meaning of assessment is the act of making a judgement about the value of someone’s product or performance.

The actor or agent – the person who makes the judgement – is often an individual with responsibility for teaching the assesses, but might also be the assesses him or herself, a peer or group of peers, an assessor who has not been involved with teaching or even a piece of technology designed to recognise predetermined parameters of the performance.

The act of assessing might take place at one point or over time. The product or performance is generally a demonstration of some combination of knowledge, understanding, skill; sometimes of values and other personal attributes; and is very often taken to be a representative sample of the assesses ‘usual’ or normal’ performance: that is, it is assumed to represent some underlying and stable level of knowledge, skill or ability, or some consistent personal attribute.

Confusingly, assessment is also used to refer to the product/performance, or to that which is assessed. For example, the definition of assessment in the JISC e-Assessment Glossary (JISC 2006a) states that assessment is: ‘the instrument (e.g. on-screen examination) used to arrive at … an evaluation ‟and also “the process of evidencing and evaluating the extent to which a candidate has met or made progress towards the assessment criteria”.  

The terms ‘formative’ and ‘summative’ do not describe different types of assessment. They refer to the purpose of the assessment, the use to which it is put. The summative purpose of assessment is to identify educational achievement as a matter of public record, for use in selection (for employment or further study) and certification (for example, of fitness to practise a profession). The formative purpose is to provide information to the learner and others concerned with the process of learning about the learner’s progress, strengths and areas for improvement. Practitioners often refer to assessment used for formative purposes as ‘feedback’. The term ‘diagnostic assessment’ generally refers to assessment which takes place before a period of learning, to provide advance information to the tutor and learner about the learner’s prior knowledge and skills and what might be an appropriate starting point for new learning.

According to Rajasingham (2009) and Guri-Rosenblit (2009), eLearning has evolved from distance education and is still struggling to gain full recognition and accreditation within mainstream education as an approach for high quality provision. While developments in eLearning have been exciting and beneficial, finding ways of enhancing the quality of provision and effectiveness have posed a serious challenge. In response to this concern of legitimacy, value and quality of online programmes, Davieset al. (2011) develop a model that provides a comprehensive conceptual framework which identifies the factors that enhance the quality of fully-online degree programmes. Pillay & Kimber (2011) argue that globalisation, transnational provision of higher education, and the ‘use of market mechanisms’ have increased the complexity in issues of accountability, authority, and responsibility in quality assurance.

According to Rajasingham (2009) and Guri-Rosenblit (2009), eLearning has evolved from distance education and is still struggling to gain full recognition and accreditation within mainstream education as an approach for high quality provision.

While developments in eLearning have been exciting and beneficial, finding ways of enhancing the quality of provision and effectiveness have posed a serious challenge. In response to this concern of legitimacy, value and quality of online programmes, Davieset al. (2011) develop a model that provides a comprehensive conceptual framework which identifies the factors that enhance the quality of fully-online degree programmes. Pillay & Kimber (2011) argue that globalisation, transnational provision of higher education, and the ‘use of market mechanisms’ have increased the complexity in issues of accountability, authority, and responsibility in quality assurance.

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