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Dialogical Assessment in Higher Education

The Influence of Bologna on Learning

Bologna Context
There are several levels of implementation of the Bologna Process: at the international level, the national level and, of course, at each university. In general, at the international level, a total of 46 countries are signed up to introduce the Bologna reforms (see Figure 3).

Modifying the assessment experience

Justin Rami & Francesca Lorenzi : Dublin City University, 2012, for the Conference, UCC.

2012 Annual

The research was intended primarily to improve the learning experience of undergraduate trainee teachers/trainers, by specifically looking at the area of Assessment. This poster offers a snapshot of the research conducted between 2008 and 2011. The research has continued but the focus in the latter stages is not so much on Curriculum reform. The authors draw on their experience as lecturers and course designers beginning with research on the module Curriculum Assessment in 2008. Despite the best efforts of processes such as the Bologna process traditional forms of assessment such as essays and end of term examinations, are still widely used in higher education in Ireland as the sole assessment methods. These forms of assessment, while they may be valid and reliable methods for collecting evidence of acquisition of theoretical knowledge, they rarely afford students the opportunity to apply knowledge to key professional scenarios. In essence, learning can be defined as changes in knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes, brought about by experience and reflection upon that experience (Brown, Bull & Pendelbury, 1996, p.21).

The Research
This research focused on the outcomes of a three-year process (2008-2011: see Figure 1). Specifically this case study aimed at examining how a learner-centered assessment model could be introduced into the overall curriculum that embraced the learning outcomes approach without reducing these to threshold levels (Meyers & Land in Rust, (2003) thus enabling the learners to make sense of knowledge through reflection, professional decision-making and engagement. Furthermore the research question also aimed to enquire if a modified assessment model could help students develop a positive attitude towards assessment, initiate reflective processes and equip themselves with knowledge transferable not only outside of the module but also to professional contexts of practice. Nel Noddings (2004, p. 161) argues that it is not the job of teachers simply to secure demonstrable learning on a pre-specified set of objectives and that the teacher role cannot be reduced merely to a set of skills. Hogan (2004, p. 20) adds that teaching is to be understood as a human practice, not just as a repertoire of competencies to be mastered, transmitted and shared The initial research (Rami & Lorenzi, 2009) demonstrated that an assessment model that enabled students to make sense of knowledge through reflection, professional decision-making and engagement in its application, can foster sustainability of learning.
Figure 3: Countries engaged in the Bologna Process

Figure 1 : Using a multimethod approach 20082011

The Assessment Model

Several models were developed from the research. The original model adopted a portfolio format (presented in 2008-2009) which consisted of four tasks as shown by Figure 5. The model was designed for the learner to experience different elements of assessment from the perspective of the teacher as well as that of the student. A dialogical cycle between assessment design and improvement of the design via responding to the feedback received informs the design of the portfolio model. The response to feedback is a reflective exercise that encourages the student to critically consider his/her strengths and weaknesses and consider the options for improvement. Figure 6 shows that within this phases of the case study the performance percentage improvements made by students from task to task.

Curriculum Alignment

Figure 7: EHEA

At the heart of the Bologna Process, is the learner. This research was triggered by a need to put the student in the centre of the learning process. It is important that the assessment tasks mirror the Learning Outcomes since, as far as the students are concerned, the assessment is the curriculum: From our students point of view, assessment always defined the actual curriculum (Ramsden, 1992).

Figure 5: Assessment Portfolio Tasks

David Crosier (2007), from the EUA (European University Association), wrote after a meeting in London that, it is extraordinary that an agenda for higher education reform is even being discussed, let alone shared and agreed upon among as many as forty-six countries. Jn Figel, the former European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth commented that, Bologna is successful because of the commitment which has been shown both by national and regional authorities, and by the stakeholders themselves. However Crozier also said that there are several issues that still need to be addressed. I worry about implementation of reforms, about the lack of attention given to key issues in the change process, about the disparity between discourse on the importance of education compared to the investment being made into it,. The Bologna declaration and the process that followed in its initial form partly echoed these ideals of Life Long Learning and the Social Dimension. There are some voices beginning to say that areas such as life long learning, and student centeredness have gone off the Bologna agenda and that it is economic factors that are driving the project forward. DCUs plans to improve its own systems and the students experience mirrored some of the Bologna Action lines. This project in DCU known as AFI (Academic Framework for Innovation (figure 4) provided a catalyst for academic staff to examine their own practices.

Figure 4: AFI - Academic Framework for

Figure 2: Constructive Curriculum Alignment (adapted from Biggs 2003)

The model aimed to use curriculum alignment (see figure 2) to place assessment at the heart of learning. Instead of viewing attainment measures merely as competencies, the research promoted an holistic view of competence. Competence beyond competencies. To the teacher, assessment is at the end of the teaching-learning sequence of events, but to the student it is at the beginning. If the curriculum is reflected in the assessment, as indicated by the downward arrow, the teaching activities of the teacher and the learner activities of the learner are both directed towards the same goal. In preparing for the assessment, students will be learning the curriculum (Biggs 2003). The new assessment model helped students develop a positive attitude towards assessment and helped initiate a reflective process that equipped students with knowledge transferable to professional contexts of practice. The development of a portfolio for assessment purposes ensured that the portfolio was not simply a collection of evidence or artefacts, but rather the experience has to build upon prior knowledge and understanding as well constructing new knowledge from authentic experiences. Knowledge emerges only from situations in which learners have to draw them out of meaningful experiences (Dewey, 1938). The literature showed that the development of a portfolio stems from a constructivist theory of knowledge and is based on the premise that meaning cannot be imposed or transmitted by direct teaching but created by the students through their learning activities (Biggs & Tang, 1998). Phase 1 & 2 (2008-10) of the research showed that portfolios could be thought of as a form of "embedded assessment"; that is, the assessment tasks are a part of instruction. The research showed that the assessment through portfolio brings deep and true meaning to the concept of assessment as a learning tool (Black & Wiliam, 1998). The revision of the assessment model, through 2008 to 2011 resulted in the development of a dialogical assessment model that embraced constructivist learning, experiential learning as well as focussing on the modular learning outcomes linking to AFI and the Bologna process.
Figure 6 : Performance Improvement

Innovation AFI states that Learning outcomes are viewed as the common currency or means by which these aims of Bologna can best be achieved (LIU (DCUs Learning Innovation Unit), 2008).


Assessment, Curriculum Reform & Bologna

Figure 7 : Dialogical Assessment Model

In recent years there has been a change in the way student learning is viewed. Increasingly the focus has moved from teaching to learning, with the emphasis shifting from what is taught, to what has been learned. The learning outcomes paradigm has become the primary method for describing student learning and places an emphasis on a students ability to demonstrate achievement of particular learning outcomes. In this context, assessment of learning outcomes becomes particularly important (The University Sector Framework Implementation Network (FIN), 2009). Too often in higher education assessment is often seen as something either very abstract or something very mechanistic. The danger of simply using learning outcomes to measure Knowledge, Skills and Competence could result in a hallow for of learning and may not equip students with the required Graduate Attributes for the real work: either the world of work and/or the development of the person as a whole. A holistic approach to assessment can align the curriculum, and curriculum reform is possible. Feedback should be seen as part of the learning process and helps students move from surface to deep learning. In DCU assessment can have a greater purpose other measuring and validating. The current EU Commissioner for also said recently Higher education is also vital for raising skill levels. Despite real progress through the Bologna higher education reforms, not many of our universities match the world's best. We must do more to ensure they do' (Androulla Vassiliou: European Commissioner for Education, Culture Multilingualism and Youth, 2010).