TEACHING NOTES: Student self-assessment – can we trust them to ….?

Many conversations I have about teaching inevitably turn to conversations about assessment; the cost, the onerousness, the time and so on. But we know that at some level assessment does drive learning. So, how do we help our students to focus on their learning without over-assessing them? Whilst over-assessment might seem unlikely, a recent conversation with a topic coordinator uncovered 17 separate assessment points within a topic! Simultaneously, there are discussions being had about the merits (or otherwise) of restricting assessments to a certain number per topic.

Of course, context is everything here. Multiple assessment points are fine if a number of these are formative and provide useful feedback for the students. A small number of significant assessment pieces is also fine provided the students are still receiving feedback on their learning throughout the topic (e.g. via tutorial/practical discussions, well-constructed quizzes or similar). However, it’s worth considering what the role of assessment is beyond graduation. In the workplace, our graduates are not usually ‘assessed’ in the same way they are at university. So, once they are employed, how do they know their ‘on the job’ learning is meeting their and their employer’s needs?

Student self-assessment is worth contemplating here; where students are assessing or evaluating their own performance in some way. Within most employment, there is a requirement to know if you are doing what you are meant to be doing, learning what you are meant to be learning and to be able to identify this for yourself. What do you do in your teaching to support students in this crucial skill? Self-assessment forms part of the skill of reflective practice. It allows students to evaluate their own work and their own learning. This is a skill necessary for maintaining professional accreditation in some industries (e.g. identifying your learning needs and meeting these through professional development across a specified time period). With respect to assessment within a topic, self-assessment allows students to:

  • reflect on and evaluate their own skill, knowledge or attitude development
  • identify gaps
  • identify future focus for improvement
  • revise their work and track their progress
  • take more responsibility for their learning

and can also engage them and help them stay motivated with their learning.

Self-assessment can present some challenges. Students may dislike the idea believing it’s the job of the teacher only. They may be unhappy if their self-assessment is inconsistent with teacher or peer assessments or they may overestimate their achievements. For these reasons and more, self-assessment will require practice.

Tips for self-assessment:

  • Consider your students’ previous experience in self-assessment – is this a skill you might think about scaffolding through the entire course? If this is their first experience, what skill level are you hoping they achieve?
  • Set clear expectations for student performance – we mark using marking guides or rubrics so criteria and standards against which students will assess themselves help to make this process more transparent.
  • Support the development of self-assessment skills – consider combining with peer assessment and build in opportunities to articulate and defend assessments of their work as well as how it might be improved.
  • Clarity around contribution (if any) to final grade – it may not be appropriate to use self-assessment in a summative way but if it does, be very clear with both students and the teaching team as to how much it will contribute; give students opportunity to practice before the summative self-assessment is used.

Introducing student self-assessment into your topic won’t necessarily reduce your assessment workload but it can give students more control over their learning and contribute to their critical reviewing skills, a benefit in terms of peer assessment. Most importantly, it helps develop meta-cognitive skills crucial for many of our graduate qualities.

Peer and Self Assessment: How and why (12:29)

Self and peer assessment (FLO eLearning Gateway)

Andrade, H. & Valtcheva, A.  (2009). Promoting learning and achievement through self-assessment.  Theory Into Practice, 48, 12-19.

Race, P. (2001), A Briefing on Self, Peer and Group Assessment—Assessment Series No. 9. LTSN Generic Centre.

McDonald, B. and Boud, D. (2003). The impact of self-assessment on achievement: The effects of self-assessment training on performance in external examinations. Assessment in Education, 10(2), 209–220.

Written by Cassandra Hood
Lecturer in Higher Education, CILT

Posted in
Teaching Notes

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