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The effect of 'viva' assessment and perceptions of ability on student's approaches to study in higher education

Lawson, R. (2005) The effect of 'viva' assessment and perceptions of ability on student's approaches to study in higher education. In: HERDSA 2005, 3 - 6 July 2005, University of Sydney, Sydney.


This study explores the concept of constructively aligned approaches to teaching and assessment, and the effect this has on students' approaches to learning and motivation. The theory of constructive alignment states that teaching methodologies, learning outcomes and methods of assessment should all support and complement each other, in order to create an effective learning environment (Biggs, 2000). The study also investigates students' conceptions of ability, i.e. fixed or incremental, to test whether this factor has an impact on their motivation and approach to study. The rationale for this work is to inform educational practitioners, encouraging teaching practices that foster deeper levels of understanding and higher levels of engagement for students.

This work has arisen from earlier studies that report a decrease in deep approaches at the end of the module (Newstead, 1998; Solominides & Swannell, 1995). Newstead attributed the increase in surface scores as a response to the proximity of formal examination, suggesting that approach might change in relation to particular demands within a module such as assessment. Fazey & Lawson's (2000) study investigated the use of a teaching approach that fosters a deep approach to learning through interactive learning. This was supported by an assessment methodology (viva voce) that required students to demonstrate a deep understanding of the subject. They found that students taught using this constructively aligned methodology that encouraged understanding, maintained their deep approach to study and significantly decreased their surface approach at the assessment period of the module.

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