Enhancing the relationship between learning and assessment

  • Lynette Daphne Vey

Student thesis: Professional Doctorate


This study is an investigation of the relationship between assessment and learning in education, and specifically, in the context of Australian secondary students studying English. The purpose of this research is to contribute to change in the way assessment of learning is conducted in view of the shift of educational values from content based towards a more goal-orientated process. Therefore, we begin this study with the premise that educational values should not only inform assessment in terms of outcomes and accountability as specified in national guidelines. They should also support a pedagogic process which helps to develop in students a heightened sense of the value of their own contributions to the community, academic and otherwise. The intellectual context of this study begins with an overview of most prominent educational theories. We illustrate John Dewey's view that education should not only prepare one for life, but should also be an integral part of life itself. Dewey insisted that education was based in experience and that educational institutions should therefore honour and build on students' experiences. Piaget believed that children are quite sophisticated, active thinkers and theorists. Vygotsky saw all learning, knowledge, and experience had a social basis. Together these three theorists emphasize the active role of students as individuals (Dewey and Piaget) or a group (Vygotsky). Further, as society's values shift from the Industrial Age to an Information Age, there is a growing expectation for individuals to be active and informed citizens, with the ability to exercise judgment and the capacity to make sense of their world. In response to these issues, we conclude that the teaching and assessment processes must support these kinds of requirements. We examine literature related to learning theories and assessment with the objective of ascertaining and illustrating aspects which they share and which, in our view, hamper the development of learning environments enabling exploratory and critical learning. We argue that when assessment criteria predetermine the learning outcomes, this results in teaching models where students' learning needs are also predetermined. This process alienates students from their sociocultural context which shapes them and from which they derive their identify and the sense of their own value. Consequently, students become an object of pedagogic tools, rather than rightful participants in the lives of their various communities. Against the background of these reflections, we set out in this study to investigate how learning and assessment can be linked together. To this end, we develop the concept of an Exploratory Learning Environment. In order to articulate the framework of such an environment, we draw on a number of principals generally associated with humanist/constructivist/postmodern approaches to learning and assessment. In the course of this work we argue that students' ways of knowing, and how they learn, cannot be divorced from their individual, and yet socially (interactively) constructed (negotiated),cultural experiences (terms of reference). The philosophy of the Exploratory Learning Environment can be described as promoting engagement and construction, thus supporting learning through experience, inquiry, experimentation and critical reflection. Consequently, in the Exploratory Learning Environment we seek to integrate pedagogic task construction and students' expectations. To this end, we concentrate our research on strategies, or tools, enhancing students' critical forms of engagement in their community. We aim for the academic knowledge, which they construct as a result, not to serve arbitrarily constructed performance indicators, but the students themselves and the community which they engage. Regarding assessment, our objective is to ascertain the diversity of conflict-generating concerns which students take into account in order to motivate the kinds of socially responsible solutions that they create and, as a result, the kinds of relationships which they want to establish. This approach to assessment allows us to focus students' learning on developing critical thinking skills whose validation comes from students' own evaluation, rather than from an abstract source of authority. This arrangement of creating learning environments rich in tools enhancing students' critical forms of engagement we carry out using two classes of Year 10 and one class of Year 8 students in two secondary schools. Results from the study demonstrate significant advantages that can be gained when assessment is not limited to the measure of a 'product, but is based in pedagogy enabling critical negotiation. For example, students developed a sense of ownership of their learning task, felt motivated to explore conflicting issues, and, interestingly, valued the assessment process and looked forward to learning about the quality of their performance. In summary, the theoretical reflections conducted in this study and the experiment conducted within the Exploratory Learning Environment model, together, provide valuable and reliable evidence supporting the need for a critical evaluation of the currently existing relationship between teaching and assessment. Further, this thesis offers examples of solutions in which this link can be fostered. It demonstrates that, when students are empowered to learn by critically linking academic and other forms of knowledge residing in their community, the assessment process become a meaningful tool to them and they become involved in their assessment. At the same time, teachers learn to reduce the grip they hold on the learning and assessment processes. They do so by adopting the role of a facilitator of the students' negotiation process. This is very different from the traditional teaching practices where the learning process is restricted, rather than enhanced, by assessment.
Date of Award2005
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Canberra
SupervisorAndrew Lian (Supervisor) & Kate Wilson (Supervisor)

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