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Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global Perspectives

Brown, Sally
Palgrave Macmillan Springer Nature, 2015

Book Review

Tags: assessment   |   diversity   |   evaluation   |   student learning outcomes
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Reviewed by: Joanne Maguire Robinson, University of North Carolina - Charlotte
Date Reviewed: February 4, 2016
This global study of teaching, learning, and assessment goes beyond the typical single country context to extend to good pedagogical practice on six continents.The argument of each chapter is supported by examples of good practice accounts from around the world, a collection that forms a refreshing change from a generic case study model. Although the examples lean most heavily toward English-speaking institutions and classrooms, there is significant attention paid ...

This global study of teaching, learning, and assessment goes beyond the typical single country context to extend to good pedagogical practice on six continents.The argument of each chapter is supported by examples of good practice accounts from around the world, a collection that forms a refreshing change from a generic case study model. Although the examples lean most heavily toward English-speaking institutions and classrooms, there is significant attention paid to various elements of pedagogy from many cultural perspectives. The author takes great care throughout the book to consider all elements of the changing higher education landscape, including the changing student body, changes in technology, and changes in expectations about the goals of higher education and graduate employability.

The twelve chapters of this book take a comprehensive view of diversity in higher education teaching, learning, and assessment. The book opens with a consideration of cultural mores and assumptions that directly affect interactions in higher education. Brown looks both to the past and the future in subsequent chapters, noting pedagogical traditions and innovations in the context of today’s higher education landscape. She argues that we must adjust to a technology-rich world that necessitates more focus on “learning how and learning why than on learning what” (21). Her view of technology in the balance as both a distraction and a valuable addition to certain aspects of both teaching and learning is refreshing, as so many books either glorify or decry technology in classrooms and society. This ability to see things in the balance is one of the greatest strengths of this book: rather than arguing for a “best” way to teaching or learning or assessment, this book offers multiple possibilities from multiple contexts and thus leaves much to the reader to judge based on his or her context and constraints.

Brown identifies a few global trends. The most widespread seems to be a move from transmissive to transformative education. She notes that there is a “movement from perceiving the university teacher as an all-knowing, unchallengeable authority figure” (27) and parallel a movement by institutions and disciplines toward encouraging learning outside of the lecture hall. Another trend is teaching toward the multiple literacies expected of a twenty-first century graduate, looking well beyond academic literacy to digital, assessment, and interpersonal literacies (88). Finally, Brown notes that all education needs to think of itself as taking place in a global environment. This book is itself a fine way to encourage broader thinking about pedagogical contexts in higher education: our students are shortchanged when we privilege our own pedagogical traditions and ignore the broader, global context of higher education.

The strengths of this book are many. For instance, the author provides substantive and exhaustive bulleted lists in each chapter, a diverse set of highlighted good practice accounts, and a full chapter devoted to higher education teacher development. The book is easy to navigate, written in clear prose, and at once expansive but grounded in particulars. I would recommend this book highly to teachers and administrators in higher education across the disciplines.

 

Theological school deans are not just theological leaders for their institution, they must be EDUCATIONAL leaders. That is, they must implement sound educational practices related to curriculum, instruction, supervision, assessment, and administration. There is a variety of ways to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum, and there are several levels ...

Theological school deans are not just theological leaders for their institution, they must be EDUCATIONAL leaders. That is, they must implement sound educational practices related to curriculum, instruction, supervision, assessment, and administration. There is a variety of ways to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum, and there are several levels ...

Theological schools and seminaries have been relative latecomers to rigorous practices of educational assessment. There are varied and plausible reasons for that which "make sense." However, in the current age of higher accountability to accrediting agencies, stakeholders, and educational consumers, those reasons must give way to the implementation of institutional ...

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Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time

Nilson, Linda B.
Stylus Publishing, Llc., 2014

Book Review

Tags: assessment   |   grading   |   student learning outcomes
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Reviewed by: Jennifer E. Kryszak, St. Thomas University
Date Reviewed: April 23, 2015
Concerns about mastery of learning outcomes or competencies, grade inflation, student motivation, and faculty time compel reflection on how we assess students in higher education. In Specifications Grading, Nilson critiques the traditional, point-based grading system and argues that students should be assessed on whether they have mastered course learning outcomes. She proposes specifications (specs) grading as a positive alternative to the current grading system. Nilson makes the case for specs ...

Concerns about mastery of learning outcomes or competencies, grade inflation, student motivation, and faculty time compel reflection on how we assess students in higher education. In Specifications Grading, Nilson critiques the traditional, point-based grading system and argues that students should be assessed on whether they have mastered course learning outcomes. She proposes specifications (specs) grading as a positive alternative to the current grading system.

Nilson makes the case for specs grading in ten chapters. Chapter 1 examines critiques of the traditional grading system and offers fifteen criteria for judging a grading system. Chapter 2 briefly introduces learning outcomes and course design. In chapter 3, Nilson shows that grades should correspond to whether a student has mastered learning outcomes. Nilson ties grades to specific learning outcomes: a student can earn higher grades for demonstrating the amount of their learning, mastering more learning outcomes, or both (25). In chapter 4, Nilson argues that assessments should be graded pass/fail because this raises the expectation for a passing grade to the B-level. This also potentially reduces faculty time spent grading as it eliminates the need to justify partial credit. In chapter 5, Nilson outlines some aspects of specs grading: a single level rubric, faculty clarity on assignments and assessment, student choice, and opportunities to resubmit work. Chapter 6 describes how to convert specs grading to final course grades by either employing a point system for assessment or requiring students to complete certain assessments (bundles or modules) to achieve a particular course grade. Chapter 7 offers examples of courses that employ specs grading in diverse disciplines. After addressing theories of motivation, chapter 8 demonstrates how specs grading can motivate students to master learning through student choice. Chapter 9 explains how to design a specs grading course and introduce students to this grading system. Chapter 10 evaluates specifications grading according to the fifteen criteria set out in chapter 1.

Among its strengths, Specifications Grading offers experiential evidence from faculty as well as examples of specs grading from diverse disciplines. These examples encourage faculty to creatively re-envision their courses. Moreover, Nilson challenges faculty to draw on adult learning theories and motivational theory to promote mastery of course outcomes and encourage students to achieve their potential. Nonetheless, Nilson recognizes faculty’s hesitation in committing to a new grading system. As a result, Nilson describes (pure) specs grading courses as well as blended courses: courses that employ a mixture of point-based assessment and specs grading. These options enable faculty to slowly adjust to the new grading system or to attend to departmental or institutional grading expectations.

Nilson argues provocatively for the ways specifications grading motivates students and raises the standard of student work. To do this, faculty must know their expectations for student work and be clear in the directions for assignments. Moreover, faculty must expect students to fulfill those expectations – to take responsibility for their own grades and master course outcomes.

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