Exploring Assessment in B.C. Post-Secondary

If you get assessment right, then everything else follows.

— Professor Sally Brown, Talking Learning and Teaching podcast.

Post by BCcampus Student Research Fellow Colin Madland

Hello, I’m Colin Madland, manager of Online Learning and Instructional Technology at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. during the day and a PhD candidate in educational technology at UVic in my ‘spare’ time. 

One of the most potent levers we have to promote the advancement of teaching and learning is assessment. Yet this seemingly simple task of coming to know what learners know, can do, or, more importantly, have become as a result of engaging in higher education is profoundly complex. Further, the approaches to assessment we take as instructors in higher education have an influence on the approaches to learning taken by the learners in our courses. 

We all know if we prioritize low-level cognitive skills on our assessments, learners will study accordingly, but if we require high-level cognitive skills, learners will engage in deeper approaches to learning (Entwistle, 2013). Add to all this the fact that technology has become ubiquitous in higher education, and there is much we don’t know about instructors’ approaches to assessment in digitally-mediated higher education. One thing we do know is instructors in higher education generally have had few opportunities to learn about assessment or pedagogy during their academic preparation. The result is their approaches are widely diverse and idiosyncratic, often mimicking the norms of assessment from their undergrad and graduate studies (Lipnevich et al. 2020).

With all this in mind, the goal of my research is to learn more about what factors influence higher education instructors’ approaches to assessment, especially in digitally-mediated contexts. I hope to understand more what instructors believe about the purposes of assessment (assessment of, for, and as learning), the processes of assessment (how they design and use assessments and communicate feedback and results), what they believe about fairness in assessment (is everyone treated the same, or do some learners perform with accommodations?), and what instructors know and believe about assessment theory (validity and reliability). Learning more about how these factors influence instructors’ approaches to assessment can help us provide the support that is needed to advance teaching and learning practice in B.C.

You can find me on Twitter @colinmadland or in the OpenETC Mattermost.

This research is supported by the BCcampus Research Fellows Program, which provides B.C. post-secondary educators and students with funding to conduct small-scale research on teaching and learning as well as explore evidence-based teaching practices that focus on student success and learning. 

Learn more:


Entwistle, N. (2013). Recent research on student learning and the learning learning route. In P. Knight & J. Tait (Eds.), Management of Independent Learning Systems (0 ed., pp. 109–124). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203062173-15

Lipnevich, A. A., Guskey, T. R., Murano, D. M., & Smith, J. K. (2020). What do grades mean? Variation in grading criteria in American college and university courses. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 27(5), 480–500. https://doi.org/10/ghjw3k

 © 2022 Colin Madland released under a CC BY license

The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Zen Chung