Freedom to learn – Assessment and the student experience

Rosie Smith, Clare Jackson and Daryl Martin, Sociology; and Lucy Hodgetts, Learning Enhancement Team, Academic Support Office


This workshop is delivered in two parts:

Part A: TESTA and the York Pedagogy

TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment) has become an increasingly popular tool for departments wishing to investigate the nature of assessment and feedback across undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes. Its emphasis upon assessment, feedback, and student work aligns closely with the principles of York Pedagogy, and has emerged as a key strand of enhancement work. This paper will provide an overview of the TESTA process as a reliable tool for auditing programmes and will outline how current engagement with TESTA at the University has helped shape enhancement work linked to York Pedagogy. The paper will explain how departments can best utilise the TESTA process, explore the benefits of using TESTA to address some of the key concerns of York Pedagogy, and will touch upon recent examples from the Pedagogy project.

Part B: Case study from the Department of Sociology

In this paper we offer reflections on student responses to assessment throughout their degree programmes in the Sociology department. The paper draws on data gathered from our TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment) exercise in the department, which included an audit of assessment practices, a student survey drawing responses across all our programmes and focus groups with Year 3 students. Reviewing these exercises, separately and together, we bring together an analysis of their underlying themes: in particular, we outline the implications of our findings for thinking through the temporalities of assessments within the degree, and how module design might best and most nimbly respond to changing student expectations and fluctuating levels of engagement throughout the programme. We consider the tactical opportunities for academic departments to engage with the strategic imperatives of changing learning cultures.

Chair’s Summary

This thought provoking workshop introduced delegates to the TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment) methodology, and its value in supporting and enhancing the York Pedagogy.

The TESTA tool was developed via a joint National Teaching Fellowship project, funded by the Higher Education Academy (2009-2012). Lucy Hodgetts gave a detailed overview of the TESTA methodology, indicating how the reliable process initially audits programmes and  then invites student engagement via  surveys and focus groups.  TESTA explores the typically multifaceted and often challenging nature of assessment and feedback. It can be applied across and within any undergraduate or taught postgraduate programme. The resulting  TESTA reports are detailed and programme specific, providing a wealth of data for staff and student engagement. Undertaking TESTA in conjunction with implementing the York Pedagogy therefore provides timely opportunities for well-aligned, student focused  enhancement activity.

Lucy’s presentation also illustrated the expertise and support that University of York ASO colleagues can provide to staff who are interested implementing TESTA. After an initial pilot involving nine departments,   more than 10 other departments are now implementing TESTA.  Interested staff can find out more via the relevant University web page.

Following Lucy’s groundwork, Rosie Smith represented the Department of Sociology, sharing an engaged illustration of TESTA in action. This project, funded through a University of York Strategic Teaching and Learning Award, audited assessment practices and sought views from all three undergraduate year groups, drawing together a strong mix of quantitative and qualitative data.  A key focus of the TESTA methodology is to generate information and insights for action, and the case  study from Sociology indicated several key areas that could be taken forward via the York Pedagogy. The proposed actions (which included piloting open exams, staggering assessment deadlines and providing student choice regarding mode of assessment to best suit skills and learning styles) made way for valuable delegate questions and discussion. Insights were shared from a range of departmental perspectives, all enriched by contributions from  external delegates. Such sharing of insights with colleagues  was a valued and concluding theme of this workshop,  which permeated throughout  the conference.

Further Workshop Materials

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s