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Dr. Geraldine O’Neill

Ms. Sylvia-Huntley Moore








Centre for Teaching and Learning, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University College Dublin, Ireland.

Director, Staff Education and Development, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Context of the assessment project

There is a high, hard ground where practitioners can make effective use of research-based theory and technique, and there is a swampy lowland where situations are confusing “messes” incapable of technical solution. … There are those who choose the swampy lowlands. They deliberately involve themselves in messy but crucially important problems and, when asked to describe their methods of inquiry, they speak of experience, trial and error, intuition and muddling through…

Schön (1983, pp. 42–43)

The practice of assessment in higher education can feel at times like Schön’s swampy lowlands. Lecturers and tutors may find themselves teaching in complex and sometimes under-resourced learning environments, in which approaches to assessment are often influenced more by tradition than by the research literature. However, recent drivers for the enhancement of teaching and learning in higher education, including: the growth of academic development units, institutional awards for excellence in teaching and teaching development grants, have encouraged lecturers to consult the literature on assessment when implementing change. This literature has included authors such as, Biggs (2004), Brown et al. (1997), Heywood (2000), Lea et al. (2003) and Race (2005). External drivers have forced some changes in assessment practices but many staff have tried out new and challenging assessment methods based simply on their desire to enhance the student learning experience.

This collection of case studies is the result of the editors’ shared belief in the fundamental importance of assessment to student learning. It is a snap-shot of the diversity of assessment methods currently in use—primarily in Ireland but also including international examples. The editors cannot claim that the idea, of disseminating case studies in this format, is original. The project was strongly influenced by an earlier Australian book by Nightingale et al. (1996). The collection is the result of a call for contributions for case studies of assessment in use in higher education, made through Irish* and International** networks. This approach, it was hoped, would focus not only on the swampy lowlands of complex assessment practices but also on the literature that supports these practices.

The cases are presented by the contributors using their own terminology. The cases represent assessments used in practice in 2005/6. We have asked the contributors to reflect on the strengths and the weaknesses of their approaches to assessment in their own contexts. We hope that this will help the readers of this collection to, in turn, reflect on the aspects of the assessment which may or may not work for their own student groups.

The organisation of the case studies

In contrast to the approach used by Nightingale et al. (1996), we decided not to use an over-arching framework to organise the cases. We believed it would be equally interesting to see what emerged: to allow the collection to reflect what contributors believed to be key assessment trends and methods in this snap-shot of time. Therefore, some forms of assessment are not represented while some are well represented (e.g., reflective journals). We included multiple examples of some methods as they were applied in different contexts and in different ways. Equally, we did not judge any one method as more valuable than any other and have therefore ordered the cases randomly.

We hope readers will explore the full range of cases. However, we have provided two cross-reference tables as follows:

We would encourage you to read cases drawn from both inside and outside your discipline, as there is much to be discovered from assessment practices used in other areas.

The first chapter, Introduction: Assessment in Crisis?, by Professor Phil Race, describes many of the current assessment issues and the terminology used, such as, ‘reliability’, ‘validity’, ‘formative assessment’ and ‘authentic assessment’.

We hope to add further examples of cases studies to the AISHE* website to keep abreast of developments in assessment in practice, but in the mean-time we hope you enjoy reading these cases which have been so generously shared by your colleagues.



Appendix A: Range of assessment methods used

Observation 1, 12
Oral presentation 12
Clinical assessment 1
Peer assessment 13, 23
Oral examination (viva voce) 1
Reflective/Creative Portfolio 15
Discussion/contributions on-line 2, 6, 17
On-line tasks 17
Reflective research journal 3
E-portfolio 1
Examination 4, 23
Group poster 1
Essay 5
Triple jump assessment 19
Essay plan 5
Peer assessment of group presentation 20
Technical report 24
Peer assessment of individual presentation 23
Submit sample of notes 5
Open book/notes examination 21
Submit examination questions 5
On-line problem solving exercise 21
Learning journals 7, 16
On-line quizzes 21
Writing computer programs 8
Language Portfolio 22
Multiple class tests 9
Research proposal 23
Teaching Portfolio 10
Self assessment 13, 24
Work-based assessment 11
Research report 12, 23
Reflective writing 11, 14

Appendix B: Disciplines and countries represented in the cases

Discipline Country Case
Clinical Speech and Language Studies Ireland, Dublin 1
Business: Study Skills Ireland, Dublin 5
Business Mathematics and Statistics Ireland, Tralee 21
Computer Science and Informatics Ireland and China 2
Computer Science and Informatics Ireland, Dublin 8
Economics Ireland, Maynooth 16
Education (Higher) Ireland, Dublin 10
Education (Adult/Vocational) Ireland, Dublin 11
Electronic Engineering Ireland, Maynooth 9
Environmental Science Australia, N.S.W. 23
Health Sciences Northern Ireland, Belfast 14
Health Sciences Education UK, Suffolk 15
Health Sciences Ireland, Dublin 18
Health Sciences Ireland, Dublin 19
Health Sciences Australia, N.S.W. 24
Humanities Ireland, Dublin 17
Information and Library Studies Ireland, Dublin 3
Information and Library Studies Ireland, Dublin 12
Information Systems Management Ireland, Tralee 21
Information Technology Ireland, Dublin 6
Information Technology Ireland, Dublin 17
Languages: Spanish Ireland, Dublin 13
Languages: English Hong Kong, Hung Hom 22
Law Australia, Queensland 4
Mathematics Ireland, Waterford 7
Natural Resources Australia, N.S.W. 23
Social work and social policy Ireland, Dublin 20
Science Australia, N.S.W. 23