Learning obscured due to overcrowding

Following on from my previous post on the criticality of students being clear about their assessment, I note that Black & Wiliam (1998, pp. 9-10) make similar points, while talking about self-assessment, about the engagement of students with their assessment.

Pupils can only assess themselves when they have a sufficiently clear picture of the targets that their learning is meant to attain. Surprisingly, and sadly, many pupils do not have such a picture, and appear to have be become acccstomed to receiving classroom teaching as an arbitrary sequence of exercises with no overarching rationale… When pupils do require such an overview, they then become more committed and more effective as learners: their own assessments become an object of discussion with teachers and with one another, and this promotes even further that reflection on one’s own ideas is essential to good learning.

Part of my work at the moment is about reducing the summative load: modules are frequently overassessed. They are over-crowded with little space for adequate briefing and critical engagement by students and staff with the assessment and how it relates to learning outcomes.

Developing clarity about learning outcomes and their assessment requires more time and the right space than is often the case. Activities develop clarity, not only through checking and rechecking with tutors, but through engagement with activities that cause self-reflection, especially where peer co-operation is involved. In this way students can identify misconceptions, and start to address them, before they become critical.


Back, P. & William, D. (1998). Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. London: GL Assessment.

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
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