This blog is part of a series co-authored by Kathy Egea and Jacqueline Melvold and provides an overview of the principles of first-year curriculum. These principles are explored in further detail in Kathy and Jacqueline’s upcoming contribution to CAULLT’s Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching MOOC (available in 2023). Content is drawn from resources and practices through the First and Further Year Experience (FYYE) program, which has been using transition pedagogy since 2011. Read about the first principle: Transition.

Assessment is designed to determine students understanding of the subject/course content, with feedback based on the assumption that students understood (i) the assessment requirement and language of the assessment task, (ii) the marking rubric, and (iii) what the required assessment output is. This is not always the case, particularly for first year students. 

Students’ experiences of assessment, particularly the first assessment, are highly consequential in student self-efficacy and confidence to success in their transition. Walker-Gibbs et al., in their paper on success and failure in higher education on uneven playing fields, state:  

First year students use first experiences of assessment to calibrate their expectations, their performance and their own suitability for higher education. Their sense of belonging in the higher education institution – in particular after some form of ‘gap time’ between formal schooling and university – is linked to the experience of success. Student’s disposition – conditioning around how individuals think about success and failure and themselves as learners – and potentially institutional conditioning is connected to the experience of success and failure in the result in their first assignment.

Walker-Gibbs et al. (2019, p. 37).

Principle #5: Assessment

The assessment principle explores the student experience of preparing for the task, undertaking the assessment, and responding to feedback given. Feedback, and operationalising this feedback is at the heart of this process. It supports student learning, student belief in their capability to achieve and their motivation to improve. 

FYE transition infographic with Assessment highlighted and text: strategies for formative feedback and 'workshopping' criteria and exemplars with students
First year curriculum infographic by Jacqueline Melvold.

Assessment in practice

For this principle, we have addressed three concepts, each with practical suggestions: 

1. Provide early low stakes formative feedback  

  • Provide formative feedback assessments that help monitor a student’s learning and generally have no or minimal grade value 
  • Utilise early low stakes formative feedback into your class so students can gauge their understand of the content, eg set formative and diagnostic tasks in the first three or four weeks of the semester. 
  • Let students know what feedback you are able to provide to them prior to assessment submission, e.g. draft of assignments 

2. Communicate assessment requirements clearly and consistently 

  • Make sure students understand the concept of criterion- referenced assessment if used in your institution 
  • Ensure that students obtain a clear understanding of assessment requirements (e.g. evaluate exemplars to understand the requirements and meaning of assessments, including benchmarking against rubrics) 
  • Be aware that students with special and additional requirements (e.g. neurodiverse, caring responsibilities, etc.) may need supplementary support to promote equity 

3. Providing actionable, quality and personalised feedback for students 

  • Feedback for learning – utilise feedback for feed-forward in ongoing assessments and understand feedback is not just a justification of the mark given, but concrete steps that students can learn to improve their skills 
  • Make class time available to discuss assessment feedback  
  • Give students warm, wise and supportive feedback – find what they have done well (warm), identify one key action they could take improve (wise), and where they could find co-curricular support if needed (support) 

From principle to practice

The two case studies below show how these concepts work in practice. In the first case study, Mai Hansford and Michaela Zappia, from FASS, built activities around rubrics to help students better understand the assessment requirements. Raechel Wight, James Wakefield and Jon Tyler (School of Business) provided early low stakes formative feedback using the learning management system in creative ways.

Case study: Using rubrics in the classroom to enhance engagement and understanding of assessment criteria

Mai Hansford and Michaela Zappia designed their practice to prepare students to fully understand the requirements of their assignment: students gained understanding of rubrics assessing past assessment exemplars, writing draft posts, peer review, by instructing them in the use of the rubric so that they can evaluate example posts in the classroom. (The Ecology of Public Communication). 

This video contains closed captions and a transcript can be found here (PDF 2.1MB).

Read more about Mai and Michaela’s approach in the blog post Using rubrics in class to enhance engagement and understanding.

Case study: Online authentic formative testing for feedback on learning

In the video, Raechel utilises the learning management system to create just in time feedback to students undertaking FY Accounting. The tasks represent the authentic assessment, acting as formative tool that allow students to practice and repeat.    

This video contains closed captions and a transcript can be found here (PDF 2.1MB).

FFYE Forum: Building confidence, capability and connection

Want to find out more about how to get the best out of students from their first year and beyond? Join us for the last FFYE Forum for 2023, which will be held on the afternoon of 22 November.

Join the discussion