The Assessment and the Expanded Text Consortium was a project directed by the English division at the University of Northumbria. It involves collaborating with colleagues who teach English courses at Sheffield Hallam University, Staffordshire University and the University of East Anglia.

We came together three years ago to build on existing relations between our various institutions, relations which often developed from the role of the external examiner and as a result of the Teaching Quality Assessment visits to our various departments in 1994/5.

We recognized from the very beginning that our work on assessment in English was particularly timely, given the changes in the English curriculum identified in the Council for College and University English’s report to the QAA (CCUE/QAA: 1997). Our focus on the expanded text was our recognition that the traditional curriculum had expanded to include, amongst other topics and subjects, aspects of cultural studies, literary theory and creative writing. We wished to take the opportunity to clarify the role of assessment in our teaching and integrate it much more with student learning. This was often not so much a return to first principles, but rather a learning process which required us to be more explicit about our implicit expectations in the assessment of student work.

For the first time, the subject community was asked to explain why it assessed in the way it did, and to evaluate the quality of that practice in relation to student learning. We determined, therefore, to be as explicit as possible in our assessment procedures and to identify and develop assessment practices which made student learning a central theme. Since then, the Quality Assurance Agency has taken over the process of subject review and the assessment for learning agenda is even more clearly centre stage. New impetus is also filtering in from other initiatives. The recent draft Statement on benchmarking standards for English (CCUE/QAA: 1999), for example, identifies critical reading, engagement and self awareness as the key characteristics of an English degree.

While these outcomes may be reached by a variety of routes, the benchmarking document simultaneously states that: ‘assessment inheres in and informs the learning process: it is formative and diagnostic as well as summative and evaluative, and the process should provide students with constructive feedback.’ It is clear that this benchmarking document both supports and defends our agenda and that assessment continues to be an important issue for the subject. It is both an interesting and contested area, requiring imminent clarification and resolution if we are to match exciting developments in the curriculum with evolving assessment practices which further student learning.

  • assessment enhances the process of student learning
  • the purpose of assessment is clearly understood by students
  • effective feedback is an essential part of the assessment and learning process
  • assessment methods arise out of the specific learning objectives of the discipline
  • thinking about assessment contributes to good teaching practice
    a well-balanced programme of assessment comprises a combination of the traditional and the innovative, the formative and the summative
  • assessment processes are equitable and transparent, and encourage active involvement on the part of learners.

Increasingly, colleagues teaching English become involved in paper trails (more accurately paper chases), teaching larger and larger groups of students and simultaneously finding themselves, and their work, more and more accountable to an increasing range of academic and administrative managers. The material produced by the project is directed at these colleagues. From the beginning it was agreed that each guide would contain: an introduction showing the relevance of the individual case study to the overall project mission statement; a narrative of the assessment method in practice; details of impact on staff and students and appendices containing examples of any materials handed out by tutors to students.

Within these guidelines, the authors were given the freedom to develop their case studies in their own way. All the material included has been tried and tested by various staff, working in a variety of conditions, to various student constituencies.

All four case studies are downloadable as PDF files using Adobe Acrobat, and some of the materials for students are viewable as Web documents. This site also includes a sample demo of our experiment with computer assisted learning for assessment.

Acknowledgements

Tutors working in the following departments of English across the country took the time to think through their current practice and to send examples to the Assessment and the Expanded Text project.

Bolton Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University, Middlesex University, Nottingham Trent University, Open University, Queen Mary and Westfield College, Sheffield Hallam University, Staffordshire University, University College Chester, University of East London, University of Leeds, University of Liverpool, University of Luton, University of North London, University of Northumbria, University of St. Andrews, University of Sunderland, University of Sussex, University of East Anglia.