Assessing assessment literacy in an HE disciplinary context

Banner image illustrating the project

The project has developed a novel approach to assessing Assessment Literacy (AL) in Higher Education with associated materials and methods. These are workshop materials in which students can engage with hypothetical module assessment design in a simplified form that is accessible and recognisable to the disciplinary context of the students yet retaining sufficient generic features to allow comparison within and between disciplines. The key features of the method are that students engage in a group discussion which is self-recorded using the materials provided as well as being observed by the facilitators to glean the thinking behind the final designs produced. Groups are encouraged to be discipline and experience specific such that results allow for cross-comparison of experience and context.

Using these approaches the project has evaluated current HE student AL across 3 diverse disciplines – Engineering, Education and Psychology. Furthermore, first and final year students were involved along with a small sample from the interdisciplinary LANS cohort. The results indicate that students make no real linkage between learning outcomes and assessment. Although assessment may involve the demonstration of ‘skills’ the major perception is that assessment is a demonstration that module credits have been ‘earnt’. All students proposed assessments that matched, sometimes in detail, modules they had experienced. The feedback proposed by students sometimes followed this pattern but on other occasions was unconnected to the pattern or type of assessments. Education students, who study learning design, did not appear to apply it to themselves in these workshops and other students carried local contextual quirks over into their designs. Final year student AL did not appear to be significantly different to first year other than in a more refined vocabulary of educational terms.

Overall it appears that HE students have low AL but do absorb their knowledge of learning design from their experience of HE. What appears to be missing is the deeper reflection on why certain approaches have been used in specific contexts. There is a strong expression in the designs that it is the lecturer role to keep the students on track and avoid them failing. Indeed, the role of feedback is primarily to avert failure. Therefore, interventions that build student AL, understand expectations and academic standards, and help students to take ownership of performance, should be developed. Above all these must be systematic and help to move student AL over time and in the context of the discipline to ensure engagement.

These results have been disseminated through two conference papers (HEFi 2018 and Assessment in HE conference 2018) and a drafted academic journal paper (Studies in Higher Education). Discussions about how this supports educational innovation and support for students around NSS have been started within 3 colleges (EPS with Heads of School and Education Dec 2018, LES and CAL with Heads of Education and others Nov 2018 and Jan 2019) and there remains an open offer to MDS and CoSS.

Project outputs:

Assessing Assessment Literacy in HE. A. Quinn, A. Büttner, J. Axelithioti and B. Kotzee. Studies in Higher Education. In preparation
Assessment Literacy in Higher Education A. Büttner, A. Quinn, B. Kotzee and J. Axelithioti. Assessment in HE conference, 28th June 2018
Assessing Assessment Literacy in a Higher Education Disciplinary Context. A. Quinn, B. Kotzee, A. Büttner and J. Axelithioti. HEFi 2018 conference – Research on Practice, 29th June 2018

Project Category:


Funding Allocated:


Funding stream:

Education Enhancement Fund


Dr Andrew Quinn, Department of Civil Engineering, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (


For more information, contact the projects office on, quoting reference CSLP164.