Good task design

By Ian Handsley

We see the real outcomes of assessment at the LSU – most of the time they’re good, but sometimes students are unnecessarily hobbled by certain assessment designs and wordings. So, based on our experiences and good practice, here are some tips for ensuring assessments do what they’re meant to do…

Keep the task instructions as short as possible

Lengthy instructions/descriptions actually make it harder for NESB students to demonstrate they’ve achieved the ILOs. We’ve seen briefs that are 4 or 5 pages long – from the point of view of a student who’s at or around IELTS 6.5, that’s impossibly long. Ideally, the task (topic + directive words) is described in 50 words or fewer. When it comes to assignment instructions, less is more.

Punctuate and support the genre students are to use for their responses

If it’s a written task, make the genre clear and unabiguous on the brief. Ideally, the assignment brief would include hyperlinks to support for that particular genre. A brief for a report, for example, could link to this or this. If you elaborate on the genre on the assignment brief, make sure your elaboration is consistent with the conventions of the genre.

Use SOLO Taxonomy to guide your wording of the task

Using SOLO helps to get the ILOs out of students, allows for excellence and supports individuality in students’ responses. Basically, the taxonomy allows for quality learning experiences. Here’s a really good guide to really good assignment wording.

Keep the task ill-defined

Don’t elaborate on the task/instructions – question prompts, suggested assignment structure and the like actually invalidate the assessment as a genuine test of ILO achievment. They also deny students opportunities to make their own decisions in assignment completion process–they deny students ownership of the learning experience.

Make the design universal

Universal design is an architecture term referring to building things so that everyone can use them. Applied to task design, it refers to instructions that everyone can interpet and respond to. Task instructions need not be only written – why not make a Youtube video or record an audio file? Can the instructions be given visually somehow? If you vary the communication medium you’ll get better results. It’s also an opportunity to motivate and inspire students.

We’re only too happy to help RMITV staff with assessment design – come see us if you need it!

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