The traditional view of education is that you learn stuff, memorise material and then sit in an exam hall and show what you have learnt. Why then does the BSc Educational Psychology programme not have exams? Professor Garry Squires discusses why there are no formal examinations on the BSc Educational Psychology programme.
Educational psychology is a body of knowledge and skills that can be applied in many ways to understand people and their individual circumstances within the context of education. In designing this programme, we had three fundamental principles in mind that run throughout the whole programme.
Having knowledge and information at your fingertips is one skill and it is easily demonstrated through a timed examination, however, it can also be demonstrated in other ways e.g. writing an extended critical essay, making an informative video, delivering a presentation etc.
Psychology draws upon different theoretical perspectives and these do not always agree with each other. A key skill that can be learnt from this is how to deal with contentious issues and to use different types of evidence to come to a more rounded understanding of what are often complex problems. This mirrors working life and applies not only to careers that have psychology in their title but also the wider fields of graduate employment. We want to develop graduates that have a range of transferable skills that employers will find valuable. Having a range of different types of assessment allows for a wider range of skills to be developed and demonstrated with clear formative feedback provided by the tutor team. Employers value graduates who are able to demonstrate critical thinking, understand data to inform decisions, policy and practice, who can present complex ideas to a lay audience, who are self-organised and independent learners and who are creative, well-motivated and enthusiastic. Different assignments allow for the development of these skills.
There are a range of skills that are specific to the role of psychologists that can be developed through collaborative projects. Professional Psychologists often lead teams or bring together a range of other professionals and set direction for multidisciplinary working around individual casework, staff training or developing policy. Some of our assignments really focus on developing these skills alongside the core content for the module e.g. In the module, Cognition and Learning, the core content of cognitive psychology is learnt alongside groupwork to develop and carry out an experiment exploring attention, memory, language, problem solving or learning. The group then present their experiment and findings to the class. Along the way, they have to navigate and learn about inter-group processes, how to resolve conflict and negotiate roles, how to share out work and avoid freeloading, how to come up with an idea and if necessary, make compromises etc.
Some of the assignments focus directly on the application of psychological knowledge to the classroom. For instance, Year 1 students are placed in schools and asked to look for the application of psychology using a range of psychological tools such as structured observation, interviews, documentary analysis, and meeting with outside professionals who visit the school.
The traditional view of examinations is that they tend to be written in a structured way that allows students to demonstrate the intended learning outcomes of the module. They are usually sat in an examination hall by all candidates at the same time and have a set time to be completed. Complex procedures are required for individual students who have disabilities that need to be formally assessed and disclosed to allow for accommodations under the Equality Act (2010).
Throughout the programme we discuss how psychology helps us to understand individual differences and how these differences can be taken into account in the planning and delivery of educational services. An inclusive educational system would be one that has all of its participants in mind when it is developed, rather than relying on ‘assessment, diagnosis and adjustment’ to cater for some. As a tutor team, we should ‘practice what we preach’ and considered that examinations tend to suit some people more than others. If we only had examinations, then we would disadvantage some students and potentially be exclusionary. Using the principles of universal design for learning, we have created a portfolio of assignments with the belief that while a student may do well on one kind of assignment but maybe not so well on another, over the whole programme they will have an opportunity to demonstrate a wide range of knowledge and skills.
One of disadvantages of examinations is that they give students limited choice, often of questions that are unseen until the student sits down in the examination hall. In contrast, assignments across most of the modules provide students with an abundance of choice. At first this can be daunting for some students who have been used to being directed by teachers. However, it does mean that students can focus on issues that really matter to them as individuals or they can develop expertise in specific areas of content. For example, some students who have a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia or ADHD have been able to develop their understanding further and then to think about how schools and the university can respond to other learners with similar needs.
Educational psychology is concerned with improving the lives of learners and teachers. University students are in a position to use their learning to directly impact on school improvement or in supporting schools. For example, in Year 1, The Brain Goes To School is a module which covers the British Psychological Societies core material around neuropsychology but then asks the question, ‘So what does this mean for schools?’ Students address this question by developing a guide for teachers to provide background information and suggestions for practice on one topic covered in the programme. Examples of some of the guides produced by students can be seen on this blog https://uomseed.com/bcsep/biological-psychology-guide/
In Year 3 the assignment builds upon work covered during the Risk and Resilience module and Prevention Science module and asks students to develop a small group intervention and then run this in a placement school.
But how do I know that I have learnt anything?
Ultimately the way that you know is that you know you know. All informal learning follows this principle and formal tests are rare in human learning across the lifespan. Knowing that you know is a self-reflective process and one in which you demonstrate your knowledge through application and practice. Think back to learning to ride a bike, there was no written exam, you just kept trying to put it all into practice until you mastered the process and went off for your first cycle.
However, we also know that some students want to see if they have acquired some facts along the way and this can be done using self-test quizzes which are embedded into the module structure but which do not count towards the module assessment. Self-test quizzes are points of time when students can see if they need to recap a topic before moving onto new material.
Good teaching also uses techniques such as bridging in which material from previous sessions is refreshed, recalled and re-used in subsequent sessions. We have also structured our programme so that learning builds year on year. For instance, The Brain Goes to School covered in Year 1 contributes to Cognition and Learning in Year 2 and both modules then feed into considering individual differences in the Year 3 module Special Educational Needs
But what about standards?
Good question. A programme is not a bad programme simply because it does not assess in the traditional way. All university modules and programmes at all universities need to meet the same standards so that a First Class mark in one module should be the same as a First
Class mark in any other module at any other university. The standards are set out by the Office for Students in the Regulatory Framework for Higher Education in England. This is achieved through a number of practical steps which start with having a rubric that describes different grade boundaries, the assignments are cross evaluated through a process of internal moderation, further moderation takes place to check that the marks awarded are consistent, external examiners from other universities check the process and sample some of the assignments. All of this ensures that the standard of the degree is maintained irrespective of the mode of assessment.
Examinations provide evidence of a limited range of skills and are only one way of demonstrating that the programmes intended learning outcomes have been met and are not inclusive of individual differences.
We have deliberately chosen an assessment mode that we think is more consistent with the aims of the programme. A range of different assessment modes can be utilised in a more inclusive way that not only demonstrates the intended learning outcomes but also develops a range of transferrable skills that are valuable to employers. Student choice is enhanced and this increases student motivation, commitment and engagement. Some of the assignments have an immediate and direct impact on local communities and schools. At the same time, robust quality control mechanisms ensure that we are confident that the standards of learning are consistent with other degree programmes. The end result is that each learner develops unique knowledge across the programme as a whole, while at the same time developing a common set of transferable skills through the completion of varied assignments and a core set of knowledge delivered through the lectures.
We are continuing to reflect and develop our approach into one in which students have clear guidance about what is required of them in meeting the learning aims of each module and programme. For instance, we were part of the Faculty Rubric Pilot and have experimented with very precise marking rubrics that are shared with students in advance and explain how each grade is awarded for different parts of the assignment set.
So, no. The BSc Educational Psychology programme does not have examinations. And, we think that is a good thing!