Assessment, learning and digital education

Course Details

Course code: EDUA11319

Course leader: Clara O’Shea

Course delivery: Jan 2017, Jan 2018


This course explores how the assessment of students and their learning is rapidly evolving in ways that capitalise on developments in digital technologies considering pedagogical and technological considerations, as well as conceptual and practical issues.  Underpinning our exploration is a review of key assessment purposes, processes and guiding principles which allows us to take a more questioning eye to newly emerging and more established directions in digital education and assessment. 

The focus throughout the course unit is on post-compulsory education, i.e. on assessment in universities and colleges.  But the perspectives adopted and issues pursued are likely to be mirrored at other levels of education, and in the related domains of training and professional development in the public and private sectors.  And since assessment practices are inescapably bound up with what's being learned in a given setting and at a particular level, we'd like to encourage you to relate course themes to your own professional practice and interests. 

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course you will be able to:

  • demonstrate an analytical  grasp of assessment purposes and practices relevant to both online and more conventional forms of assessment
  • critically evaluate the potential pedagogical benefits of, and limitations to, the use of online assessment in educational settings
  • be familiar with a range of conceptually and empirically grounded frameworks for reviewing and enhancing developments in digital assessments
  • identify and review prospects for online assessment that reflect your subject area and academic and professional interests in relation to the higher and post-compulsory education sectors


Week 1: Assessment purposes and perspectives
The course opens with an opportunity to review your experiences of being assessed and share with others your initial thoughts on what makes for a good assessment. We then turn to the fundamental question of what purposes can underlie assessment, how different ‘stakeholders’ tend to vary in which purposes they value most, and what tensions may arise from these differences.

Week 2: Digital Contexts and Multimodal Assessments
Novel, online forms of assessment provoke new questions about what the informal ground-rules (and even the implications for more formal assessment regulations) might be.  This theme explores the implications for assessment in digital environments.  We will examine a variety of actual online assessments and consider how they open up opportunities for students to communicate what they know, understand and can do and how they ask us, as educators, to consider the interpretative role of the assessor and to re-think conventional wisdom about assessment and feedback.

Weeks 3-4: Assessment for Learning
A recurring theme in the assessment literature is the problematic interrelationship between assessment-for-grading (‘summative assessment’) and assessment-for-learning (‘formative assessment’), allied to concerns that the former has all too often flourished at the expense of the latter. Here we consider a number of frameworks and manifestos that each seek to put assessment-for-learning to the forefront and articulate evidence-informed guiding principles.

Weeks 5-6: Feedback, feedforward and dialogue
Here we focus on the opportunities digital environments afford to enhance assessment-for-learning by facilitating and boosting guidance and feedback to students on their progress and performance. We will consider applications that range from comments on coursework assignments, through initiatives that enable students to self-test periodically, to the introduction of electronic voting systems that provide a systematic check on how well what has been taught has been understood.

Weeks 7-8: Collaborative learning and assessment
Digital technologies have opened up exciting new opportunities for students to work collaboratively, whether through new forms of communication and interaction as they pursue shared or pooled tasks, or through co-authoring tools that allow writing and revising of joint publications, presentations or other output.  But assessing such collaborative activities also poses tricky issues for educational systems that have traditionally evaluated and rewarded individual rather than group endeavour and where the borderlines between cooperation and collusion may be fuzzy rather than clear-cut.   During this theme we will tease out some of our own ways of working collaboratively in preparation for our own group-based assessment.

Weeks 9-12: Emerging Themes and the Big 5 Wiki Assignment
In these weeks, we will explore some of the emerging challenges that new technologies might bring to traditional understandings of the relationship between teacher, student and assessment.  We will also be engaging in our group-based assessment for the course, The Big 5 wiki assignment (see the section on ‘assessment’ below for more information on the assignment).


There are three elements to the assessment.

Individual ‘think piece’ (25%): This assignment is an individual critical exploration of the challenges of multimodal, digital assessments for and of learning. to think about the ways that assessment practice is affected by new and emerging opportunities to construct and convey meaning in richly digital ways. To do this we want you to engage with the literature that sheds light on the sometimes complex relationship between multimodality and assessment. By taking a scenario-based approach in this assignment we wish to emphasise how the approaches we take in the design and delivery of assessment exercises can be informed by the application of research and critical discourse to practice.

Group-based assignment (50%):  As an integral part of your work in this unit, you will have the opportunity to experience a collaborative, online assessment first hand.  This will give you the opportunity to explore in depth a topic of some interest to you, but also to surface and reflect on the challenges of collaborative, online assessments. Your reflections might provide a stimulus for your final assignment.  In this assignment, you will work with others to tackle one of our “Big Questions” - key questions or statements for digital assessment  - that require a co-authored, critical and synthesised response from your group and a supportive, interdependent approach for the whole class.  To acknowledge and underpin the collaborative nature of the assignment, each group response to a Big Question will be graded as a whole will be awarded one mark that all members of the course group will share.

Individual position paper (25%): The intention with this assignment is twofold: firstly, to let you explore in some depth another emerging theme; secondly, to both motivate and allow you to capitalise on your role as a critical friend during the Emerging Themes weeks.  This is an opportunity for you to reflect on the current state of affairs for your critical friend topic and to do some ‘blue skies’ thinking about where that area might develop.  You are encouraged to draw on the assignment developed by your peers in weeks 9-12, the resources recommended for that topic and the wider literature covered throughout this course and your other courses.  However, this is not a literature review.  Instead, the literature should help you position your own perspective – your argued for take on the topic in hand.  We want you to ask “Where is the field at, where could it go or does it need to go?  Where next for [your topic]?”

Teaching Methods

The course is delivered entirely online through a combination of environments. The core environment for course communication is Moodle which is where you will find discussion space, course readings and resources.  We also use collaborative authoring spaces (e.g. PB wiki, Google Docs) and synchronous spaces like Skype and Collaborate for our occasional seminar series.

The course is somewhat flexible in terms of how you structure your workload, though there will be one-hour synchronous seminars offered in some weeks which you are encouraged to attend. In the final theme,  you must engage with group work and will be responsible for co-organising your group, co-authoring your work and offering constructive critiques for your peers.

As with the rest of the Digital Education programme, the ethos of this course is one of active, collegial and constructive participation.


Indicative reading for the course is:

Alvarez, I., Espasa, A. and Guasch, T.  (2012).  The value of feedback in improving collaborative writing assignments in an online learning environment.  Studies in Higher Education, 37(4): pp. 387-400.

Boud, D. (1995).  Assessment and learning: contradictory or  complementary.  In Assessment for Learning in Higher Education. P. Knight (Ed) (London: Kogan Page/SEDA): pp. 35-48

Carless, D. (2007). Learning-oriented assessment: conceptual bases and practical implications. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 44(1): pp. 57–66.

Nicol, D.  2014.  Guiding principles for peer review: unlocking learners’ evaluative skills. In eds. C. Kreber, C. Anderson, N. Entwistle and J. McArthur Advances and innovations in university assessment and feedback. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.



As with all courses, you will be required to have regular access to a computer with a good broadband connection, and will be responsible for providing your own computing equipment and consumables. All core and some additional readings will be provided online.

For synchronous sessions you will need headphones and a microphone.