What to consider when using assignments as an assessment method for a course?
An assignment is a piece of (academic) work or task. It provides opportunity for students to learn, practice and demonstrate they have achieved the learning goals. It provides the evidence for the teacher that the students have achieved the goals. The output can be judged using sensory perception (observing, reading, tasting etc.). The assignment can focus on a product as output (e.g. research report, design, prototype, etc.) and/or a process (e.g. research process, group process) and/or the performance of individual skills or competences (e.g. professional skills, communications skills).
There are a lot of benefits to gain from using an assignment as an assessment method. Assignments can for instance be used to test higher cognitive abilities and the application of specific skills or knowledge. It can mirror the future professional practice. It can be used to assess the integration of knowledge, skills and attitudes (competences).
When designing and using an assignment as a summative test (students get a score or grade or pass/fail judgment), there are things to consider: will it be an individual assignment or group assignment; just one assignment or more; how to make it motivating and challenging; will I provide interim feedback etc.? There are also issues to consider for assessing the final results. Like: how to assess in a reliable, objective, consistent way; what are the criteria to be used; how to weight different elements of the assignment; how to calculate the grades based on the scores; how to avoid or check for free-riding or plagiarism etc.
When assessing with assignments, we should pay attention to:
>> validity: we really test what we want to test; the assignment and the way we assess the results are aligned with the learning goals.
>> reliability: based on the results, we make a right, just, fair, objective distinction between pass/fail or provide the just grade. Our scoring or grading is done in a consistent way and the judgments or the grades are meaningful.
>> transparency: it clear upfront for the students what they will learn, what they have to do (as evidence; what to deliver or show), how they will be assessed and what to expect during the process.
>> the assignment and the feedback provided will support the learning process.
With the toolbox below, related to the questions and issues mentioned above, we hope to offer you useful tips and guidelines for designing and assessing assignments.