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A theory-driven approach to evaluate assessment practice that supports students’ learning

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Christine Arthur
Publication date8/02/2024
Number of pages169
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • Sunway University
Award date8/02/2024
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Assessment is an integral part of learning in higher education. Because so much time and effort is invested in developing assessment tasks, assessments should not only measure students but also assist them in learning. Although assessment is crucial in higher education, progress in developing new concepts and implementing changes to practice has been extremely slow. There has been a lot of study on assessment and feedback, but this has not translated into widespread implementation.

This research adopted a theory-driven approach to evaluate the existing assessment system in a Malaysian private higher education institution in order to gain an understanding of the ways in which assessment practices support learning. The initial underpinning theories that are evaluated derive from Gibbs & Simpson’s (2004) conditions under which assessment practice supports students learning. Teachers and students were interviewed to learn how they interpret their experiences.

Firstly, this study reveals that students struggle with assessment time; they end up prioritising graded assessments. Secondly, teachers find it a struggle to stay constructive in terms of assessment activities. Finally, this study found that assessment feedback is challenging because of an imbalance in the Student Staff Ratio (SSR) and lack of feedback literacy. These struggles expressed by the participants highlight the institutional tensions that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) face in policy implementation. Through this detailed exploration, this study reveals the need for both a top-down and bottom-up approach – a synthesis approach – in the policy implementation process to connect the dots between theory and practice. Without this approach, theory and practice will continue to exist as separate spheres when they should be integrated for effective implementation.

This study contributes to the existing body of knowledge by 1) bridging the gap between theory and practice of assessment and feedback in the context of HE and 2) highlighting the struggle and support received by participants in pursuing assessment tasks that support learning.

All in all, this study urges HEIs to discuss the steps they need to take to close the gap between theory and practice and maximise the learning potential of assessment.