Milestone-based assessment: An alternative strategy for assessing laboratory learning outcomes

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Engineering programs often feature units that contain a semester-long laboratory project, in which students complete an extended piece of work throughout the full duration of the semester. The traditional model of assessment for such units is for the students to present a series of demonstrations of intermediate stages throughout the semester - for instance, in weeks 5, 9 and 12. This approach can lead to large amounts of high-stress productivity in weeks 4, 8 and 11 and much frustration on the day as circuits that had previously been seen to be working don't function under assessment conditions. There is also a danger that this kind of burst-mode learning promotes shallow learning, rather than emphasising deep learning outcomes. This paper presents an alternative assessment approach called "Milestone-Based Marking". Simply put, students could be assessed at any time on the milestones that would otherwise have been set for the demonstrations. As incremental progress is made, students claim incremental marks, and are able to receive incremental feedback on their progress. In this way, the date of the deadline becomes the last opportunity at which credit for those milestones could be claimed, rather than the only opportunity. A further extension of this approach to improve assessment and feedback was to rate each of the milestones for difficulty - Easy, Standard, Hard or Challenging. The Easy and Standard milestones are intended to determine whether a student should pass or fail, while the Challenging milestones provide motivation for the students to extend themselves and enrich their learning. This rating and feedback process further assisted students in the management of their workload through the semester. Easy milestones require less effort than Hard milestones, providing students with a clear guide as to how best to invest their time and effort. One of the hidden benefits of the Milestone-based approach is that it changes the nature of the assessment from a purely summative process to a largely formative process. Students whose performances are borderline can be given specific feedback about what they need to do to reach the expected competency levels. The overall result of this initiative is that a strong majority of students believe that the assessment is a fair measure of their learning, and that the feedback they receive actively contributes to this learning process. They also overwhelmingly report that they are reflecting on their learning and becoming more independent learners.

Original languageEnglish
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


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