The central pedagogic issue concerns how we can best assess Masters level achievement, and how to optimise the feedback and support Masters students receive.
Research underlines the importance of assessment in higher education in shaping the experience of students and influencing student behaviour, but university assessment practice, bound up as it is with traditions and concerns about fairness and standards, has been slow to change. This is particularly the case at Masters level. However, the profile of students undertaking Masters programmes is changing, and it is likely that a significant proportion of students will benefit from better focused assessment approaches.
To date, most taught Masters have relied heavily on relatively conventional assessment methods, such as dissertations and exams, which potentially have limited scope fully to address Masters level learning, particularly in applied subject areas where the production of conventional extended assignments may not add particular value. These conventional assessment methods struggle to assess more than a limited range of skills (Brown et al., 1994), and potentially advantage some students in relation to others.
There are convincing arguments for focusing on assessment design and in particular upon extending the range of assessment methods used in higher education. Struyven et al. (2002) report that students are positive about ‘alternative’ assessments where assessment is integrated with teaching, where tasks are authentic and meaningful and where students are ‘involved as active and informed participants’. The Higher Education Academy’s report to the Secretary of State on the future of teaching and the student experience (2008) concluded that:
“there is growing recognition that students have a major role to play in the enhancement of teaching and assessment. Universities and colleges are increasingly positioning students as engaged collaborators rather than inferior partners in assessment, teaching, course planning and the improvement of quality.”
In partnership with students supported through a structured and controlled methodology, this project will adopt a highly innovative, student-centred and cost effective approach to exploring how we may ensure that assessment at Masters level is authentic, valid and fit-for-purpose. As many universities worldwide are exploring how to increase the proportion of students proceeding from undergraduate study to Masters level it is timely to investigate how best to measure and enhance achievement at this level.