Assessment for learning: Revisiting the past and envisioning the future – Interview with Professor Rick Glofcheski
Interview with Professor Rick Glofcheski
(The University Distinguished Teaching Awardee 2015)
Professor Rick Glofcheski is well known for his remarkable achievements and unreserved commitment to excellence in teaching, learning and assessment. He has been the recipient of many teaching awards, including the inaugural University Grants Committee Teaching Award 2011 and most recently and for the second time, the University Distinguished Teaching Award 2015.
Rick has always been committed to the pursuit of assessment for learning. He advocates that those important learning moments and opportunities offered by assessment should never be missed. Rick’s contributions to assessment for learning have extended from his own classroom to a larger impact on a much wider audience. For instance, he sponsored the International Conference on Assessment for Learning in Higher Education (May 2015), which promoted the awareness of assessment for learning as well as celebrated a range of innovative practices across institutions.
Below records part of a brief interview with Rick, conducted by Dr. Tracy Zou. The interview revisits inspirations and achievements of Rick in assessment of learning and also discusses the possible future envisioned by him.
Tracy: You have pioneered a number of assessment for learning approaches in legal education. Would you please share with us some of your inspirations? How did you come up with those ideas?
Rick: Many of the ideas came from my observations of students’ learning. For example, students always work very hard and do their best for whatever assessment it is, let us say, tests and examinations. After they hand in the paper, you can see all sorts of mistakes there. But will students find out about and learn from these mistakes? They will not because they leave the examination hall and will soon forget what they have written down. I was wondering – why not take advantage of those moments when students were still excited and ensure that when they left the examination hall they would be enlightened? Why not? Those were the precious moments that you could do something to greatly help students learn better. We should not waste those moments. It was one of the reasons that I started to provide real-time feedback right after examinations. There was no model answer to the examination paper but students and I create one collectively. Once we finished it, we agreed that it was going to be the answer that the markers were going to use. So if I believe that an approach can be helpful to student learning, I will try it.
Tracy: How was students’ feedback to your approaches? What were their reactions?
Rick: Each time when I wanted to do something different, I always consulted my students first. For example, before using the real-time feedback, I told them, “This is what I think I will do. What do you say? Want to do this?” “Sure,” They said. Then we did it. Of course not everyone said yes. A handful of them left the examination hall. I said, “You do not have to stay but you can stay if you want.” I also asked students later through a survey about what they thought of this approach. Most students liked the approach. One of them wrote in response to the survey, “We should have this in all of the courses. This was the first time in my life when I knew how I have really done in the examination.” So I am more convinced by this approach. It is because students just did the paper and were very keen. It was the moment that they were most able to learn and correct misunderstandings.
Tracy: You have been practicing assessment for learning for a number of years. Are there any new initiatives that you are working on or thinking about?
Rick: There are several approaches that are working well, including reflective media diary, photo essay, real-time feedback, and a few others. I will continue to refine and use them.
One thing that I am now thinking of going beyond the current methods is to give students back the examination scripts, the answers they write down for the exams. This will be one step further to the real-time feedback approach. At this moment, I am not very sure whether it will work and how to handle it properly. However, I still believe that it will benefit the students. They can read the scripts for learning purposes. I will need to think it through.
Tracy: One issue around assessment for learning is how to scale it up. Many classes in this university are very large with more than 150 students. Do you have any advice for us to adopt assessment for learning in large classes?
Rick: It can certainly be done in large classes. Some of the courses I teach have over 250 students. One quite friendly and economical approach that I have been using is to adopt news reports as case materials. In legal education, fabricated cases written by instructors are typically used but most of them don’t represent or are not even close to what happens in real life. Even worse, students don’t need to use a deep-learning approach to succeed in hypothetical cases. I use news reports to replace hypothetic cases. The advantage lies in the authenticity of the cases because they are generally complex, requiring multiple perspectives in analysis. This approach has proved to be labour-friendly. At least there is plenty of material available. It does not require a radical change of your course structure, either.
Tracy: You have achieved a lot in assessment for learning. What do you think will be the future of assessment for learning in this university?
Rick: It seems that more people are talking about assessment, or more broadly, teaching and learning. A lot of colleagues come to me and say that they are thinking of applying teaching awards or teaching grants. This possibility did not exist years ago. But it is happening now. I have also incidentally learned on various occasions that some colleagues are using some of the approaches that I have been using. For example, someone said in a meeting, “I took up this method from Rick” or “I do this because I attended Rick’s talk and find the approach useful”. I guess these anecdotes signal some positive changes. At least I could say that scaling up assessment for learning starts with individual teachers who are willing to experiment with new approaches in their classroom and share the lessons learnt with others.
Informal collaborations and discussions are already taking place between colleagues and through various communities of practice. One needs, however, to note that good teaching and learning consumes a lot of time. We also need to do discipline-based research and other tasks. It is perhaps quite natural that some academics want to shut students down and focus more on their research. To take assessment for learning even further, the university should take measures to acknowledge and recognise the achievements of academics in this aspect more explicitly, perhaps as part of the promotional criteria.