Meaningful, Equitable and Manageable: The Iron Triangle of Assessment Design

Student cohorts of 250+ are not uncommon in today’s brave new world of Higher Education.  Indeed here in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering we deliver the largest taught MSc programme in the Faculty; a 1year MSc in the Management of Projects that attracts over 300 students each year – drawn to The University of Manchester by both its reputation and the excellent feedback the course receives from past students. Given that this course generates considerable income for the University it is not surprising that much effort is devoted to ensuring that the student experience is a good one, with academic staff working very hard to deliver excellent and innovative teaching, getting alongside students to encourage, exhort and educate them and organising added value activities such as industry focused projects and a programme of guest speakers. What we are less focused on though is the small matter of assessment – how do we as teachers assess large cohorts of students in a way that is meaningful and equitable for individual students and manageable for individual staff members ? (I have blogged before about the enormously time consuming nature of assessing large groups of students). This question has exercised me ever since I moved from industry to academia 6 years ago and has led to much soul searching, constant tweaking of assessments and experimentation with technology.  I have tried individual essays, group essays, group wikis and poster presentations, and both essay style and multiple choice exams .  Whilst there are pros and cons of each of the above approaches, none of them have enabled me to be confident that my assessments fulfill all three of the above criteria; namely that my assessments are meaningful, equitable and manageable. For example, an individual essay, if well set, should be meaningful in terms of meeting learning outcomes and find tadalafil pills from cial pharmacy and developing independent thinking, and equitable in terms of rewarding individual effort but with a cohort of 250+taught by a single member of staff it is certainty not manageable !  In contrast a group-based wiki assessment makes marking more manageable; if well designed, it can definitely be meaningful but even with an element of peer assessment, can it truly be equitable to all students in the cohort?

It strikes me that these three objectives are rather like the ubiquitous “iron triangle” of time, cost and scope (features and functionality) in my discipline of project management, where projects often achieve two but fail to deliver on the third objective – the London 2012 Olympics being a great example of this (on time delivery – yes, great features and functionality – yes, on budget – sadly no).

Iron triangle of assessmentWith this in mind here is my own “iron triangle of assessment design”. Its an early idea, and one that needs more detailed exposition but it serves here as a “straw man” of what the objectives of assessment design are.

And now I am throwing the gauntlet down to my students and other MOP staff – there is after all only one of me and 300 of you!  What ideas do you have to make assessment on my unit and others on the MOP programme more meaningful, equitable and manageable?  Here are some questions to get you started.

Do we maintain individual or move towards more group based assignments ?

Does each unit require both coursework and examination style assessment?

Should we be combining assessments across several units or stick with one separate assessment for each unit?

Any other thoughts ?

Please do post your comments on the blog

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