On 19 April, the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) organised a half-day event on learning-oriented assessment as part of the Educating for Success series. The event aimed to support and progress student success by exploring how to create assessment tasks that prepare students for the future. 

The event was opened by Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Rorden Wilkinson, who emphasised the need for innovation in assessment and feedback practices:

We have a consensus in this University around the need to move forward with how we assess and give feedback to students in novel and interesting ways, and hope we’re ready to rise to that challenge.

The highlight of the event was a Great Debate, where two teams of Macquarie academics and students debated whether universities should adopt innovative assessment tasks instead of returning to traditional assessment methods in response to the rise of sophisticated AI. You can watch the recording of the debate here.

The event also featured: 

If you missed the event or want to revisit some of the key ideas, check out the responses from the presenters to some of the questions submitted by attendees. You can also look out for upcoming TECHE posts on assessment-related topics. 

The debate exceeded my expectations as they all made so many valid and thought provoking points.

What do MQ students think about assessments?

One of the highlights of the Educating for Success event on learning-oriented assessment was a video featuring current MQ students sharing their thoughts and feelings on assessments. The video captured the diversity of student experiences and preferences, as well as some common themes and challenges. 

The video sparked group discussions among the attendees on how to embed indigenous perspectives and provide meaningful feedback in quiz assessments. These topics are relevant for designing and delivering future-oriented assessment tasks that support and progress student success. 

Student video showcasing their responses to: 

  1. What assessment task did you most enjoy doing at university? 
  1. What assessment task did you least enjoy doing at university? 

Attendees also had an opportunity to submit questions (via online) for forum presenters, and below are some responses. Look out for forthcoming TECHE posts dedicated to assessments and responding to common themes raised by participants attending the forum.

Q: Have you had much student anxiety around the viva? I’ve had that experience with students for presentations before. 

Response from Zara Bending: We definitely get students every session who feel unsure or anxious about their ability to do well in a viva. From experience, helping students manage their anxiety about oral exams often starts with a convenor who practices AC/DC:

Acknowledge that feeling anxious about novel assessments or new tasks at work is a common and authentic experience. This may help those students affected feel seen and shows that you are mindful and receptive. 

Clarify what the assessment is and what the assessment is not. It is an opportunity for them to showcase their knowledge in an authentic way to a dedicated audience comprised of a marker who is also passionate about what they are studying. It is not an interrogation featuring questions deliberately designed to reveal their deepest inadequacies and insecurities.

Demonstrate the sorts of interactions, questions, and responses that would score well against the assessment instructions and rubric. This equips students with a benchmark of how general or specific questions may be as well as how sophisticated, concise, or detailed you want them to be in their responses.   

Communicate with your students and teaching staff. You need to be on the same page when it comes to the substance of assessment and the logistics for administering it. Record an info session and upload it under your Assessment tab in iLearn, keep a thread open on the Discussion Forum, and be sure to pin any Announcements containing important information as you gear up to grading.   

If you stick to AC/DC, your students shouldn’t feel ‘thunderstruck’ about novel assessments. In all seriousness, there’s nothing better than facilitating a session where a student who previously thought they ‘weren’t good at speaking’ has a breakthrough because you held the space for them and gave them the tools to have a transformative experience.

Q: How is it possible to use oral exams in large units considering workload involved?

Response from Zara Bending: Scale up! Whether a marker spends 20 minutes on Turnitin grading an essay or 20 minutes on Zoom assessing an interactive oral, they are still working within a unit’s marking allocation. You can have multiple markers grading across multiple Zoom accounts at the same time to get through volume. Alternatively, I know of some convenors who like to maintain the formality of invigilated exams by instructing all students to enter via a single Zoom link before placing them and their assigned markers into breakout rooms. The key is having a solid process and communicating with your students and marking team.  

Griffith University has some comprehensive resources for interactive orals working to 750 students per unit (see this webinar shared with us post-conference). One of our MQ-based colleagues at ‘Educating for Success’ also shared that their team conducted live interview style assessments with 800+ students in ONE day!   

Lastly, I need to stress that ‘assessor wellness’ is an underserviced factor in assessment design and execution. My markers and colleagues constantly feed back that interactive orals are immeasurably more fulfilling to grade in comparison to the markers’ fatigue and isolation that can consume us when it’s just us, Turnitin, and a stack of student numbers for weeks on end. Oral exams may actually feel like a lighter workload despite equivalence in the time taken to grade a written essay!

Q: How do you replicate the lego teamwork game in a Zoom environment?

Response from Dr Prashan S M Karunaratne: We have two Lego Activities in the session (Reflection in Week 1 and Teamwork in Week 3). In both instances we utilise stock image websites such as Pixabay. For example, for the Teamwork activity, where all teams need to create the same Lego model (in the in-person classes), for the online classes, the unit convenor (UC) can go into Pixabay and create a collage of images by picking (say, 15-20) Lego images from Pixabay. The UC, then places a watermark on this collage. The watermarked collage is then shown to all students – their aim is to replicate it as a team. The teams have to race the clock and work as a team to find the individual components of the collage in Pixabay. It’s literally like looking for physical Lego pieces and constructing a Lego model together!

Q: Do you pay industry guests to be on campus for involvement in classes?

Response from Dr Prashan S M Karunaratne: Our industry guests are not paid, to date. Most guests are alumni who are waiting to give back to the community. We do have guests who are not alumni of Macquarie University, however, they have independently reached out to the UC to take part in the program as they have seen the engagement of the sessions via LinkedIn, and they willfully want to come on board! We even have had professional coaches whose careers is running these sessions, and they have wanted to come on board without the need for payment, and in all cases, they have reached out to us. Thus, advertising the program via photos on LinkedIn endogenously creates buy-in from industry! Where time permits, we do treat guests to lunch or dinner as a thank you. 

Video recording of forum presentations

Video recordings of each of the forum presentations and Great Debate can be found below and available via the TEACH Event page. Synopsis of each presentation can be found via the event program.

SpeakerPresentation titleLink to video
Dr Jo Anne Rey (FOA)Creative Assessment through Country: A Transformative Practice for Sustainable SuccessWatch presentation now
Associate Professor Joanne Jamie (FSE)Embedding Indigenous Perspectives into AssessmentWatch presentation now
Dr Olga Kozar (Teaching Staff Development Team)Assessments in the AI worldWatch presentation now
Dr Lurion De Mello (MQBS)Stepping out with industry-relevant skills: designing course-based assessments using real-world dataWatch presentation now
Dr Kelly Gray (FMHHS)Bridging the gap: Redesigning assessment to link theory to shared-patient careWatch presentation now
Dr Prashan S M Karunaratne (MQBS)Enhancing Employability Skills via Course-Based Assessments for Learning in a Capstone UnitWatch presentation now
Dr Jacqueline Mackaway (FOA)Assessments and PACE – working with industryWatch presentation now
Dr Jon Burtt (FOA)Developing a ‘pathway’ approach to assessmentsWatch presentation now
Zara BendingKeeping PACE with the times through ‘living voice’: assessment via viva voceWatch presentation now
The Great DebateThat in response to the proliferation of sophisticated AI, universities should adopt innovative assessment tasks instead of returning to traditional assessment methods.Watch presentation now

Our thanks to all the Forum speakers and contributors. This event was proudly co-sponsored by the Office of Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) 

Pictured L to R: (back row) Brendan Winters, Professor Dominique Parrsh, Asimo Krizan, Jess Sewell, Leah Mercier, Dr Lurion De Mello, Dr Prashan S M Karunaratne, Dr Jacqueline Mackaway, Professor Albert Atkin, (front row) Dr Olga Kozar, Carla Mirabilio, Associate Professor Joanne Jamie, Zara Bending, Professor Melanie Bishop, Udai Kamath

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