Undergraduate and postgraduate student's attitudes towards formative assessment: an action research study
(2016) Undergraduate and postgraduate student's attitudes towards formative assessment: an action research study, no. 117.
Background: Assessment is seen as being at the core of the students learning journey and increasing evidence suggests that a greater emphasis should be given to formative assessment in order to underpin the development of reflective and self-regulatory learning strategies. Despite these benefits, it is perceived that students will only engage in activities that contribute directly to their grade. Supporting evidence is inconsistent however and is focussed primarily on undergraduates. This study therefore sought to provide insight into both undergraduate and taught postgraduate healthcare student attitudes towards formative assessment. Methods: An action research framework was employed using qualitative data collection strategies. Two student co-researchers volunteered to assist with recruitment and data collection. Four focus groups were undertaken with 22 students (14 undergraduate and 8 postgraduate) and a thematic analysis undertaken. Results: Four major themes were identified - perceptions of formative assessment, barriers to engaging with formative assessment, facilitators to engaging with formative assessment, usefulness of formative feedback. The findings highlighted that students defined formative assessment as a 'trial run' of the summative assessment and did not value assessment that was not directly associated with the summative. Many felt a pressure from staff to submit formative work and not all students understood the optional nature of the assessment. Time management was a significant barrier to engagement. Dialogic feedback, where students were encouraged to either direct the lecturer to areas where they would value feedback, was seen as uncomfortable by some students. One-to-one discussions however were seen as valuable by those who had experienced such opportunities. Conclusions: These findings support previous work that shows students tend to most value work which contributes to the development of their final grade and supports previous findings of cue-seeking behaviour. These behaviours suggest that students may be over-reliant on academic staff for an evaluation of their performance and that they lack the skills of self assessment. Differences between groups of students were subtle however post graduate students appeared to be more able identify the role that formative work play in shaping their learning.