Introducing portfolio assessment as an alternative assessment method in the Department of Biomedical Technology at Mangosuthu Technikon : the perceptions of staff and students.
Ndimande, Thembi Alice.
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The assessment procedures utilized in the Department of Biomedical Technology at Mangosuthu Technikon were critically reviewed. This revealed a rather narrow approach with an emphasis on traditional assessment methods such as tests and examinations that provide limited feedback that does not necessarily determine whether learning has taken place. This study was prompted by the realization that the existing traditional methods of assessment promote or encourage a surface approach to learning which makes it difficult for the students to transfer the theoretical knowledge that they have attained into the practical performance that is required in the workplace. The study was conducted over a period of four years using an action research approach, which revolved mainly around the use of the existing assessment methods and an evaluation of the participants’ perceptions regarding the introduction of portfolio assessment in the Department of Biomedical Technology at Mangosuthu Technikon. During the study a group of students in the Department of Chemical Pathology was exposed to an in-course portfolio assessment as well as an experiential training portfolio assessment. A number of variables in the in-course portfolio assessment was tested. These variables were related to the concerns raised in the workplace. The introduction of the in-course portfolio showed some improvement in the way students performed their basic duties in 2005. The 2006 group of students was not exposed to the in-course portfolio assessment therefore this provided a better comparison of students by the employers. The study also involved the lecturers in the department who had different opinions regarding portfolio assessment. It was found that some of them supported the idea whereas others felt that the time allocated for lecturers’ duties did not permit them to introduce such a time-consuming assessment format. Employers involved in the study clearly indicated which areas or skills students needed to develop before they could come to the workplace for experiential training. However, the researcher concluded that some of those skills could be accumulated with further years of work experience. The study revealed that a significant portion of the students realized that, by integrating assessment in the learning process, they are able to be more critical of their own work, thereby putting more effort into understanding what they learn through the use of formative assessment. This in turn should pave the way for students to understand that learning is no longer teacher-centred, but learner-centred. This approach means that they are expected to work in more reflective and independent ways in the future. The study highlighted a number of issues that need to be addressed in assessment strategies. The lecturers were accustomed to assessment system that was time-efficient and yielded the scores required by the system. However, the way this assessment system related to learning was not so clear to either lecturers or students. Particularly, students felt that a mark did not necessarily reflect what they knew about the subject matter. They argued that if the same subject content had been assessed in other ways, a different performance outcome might have been achieved. This means that the actual awarding of marks is an intimidating process for some students and that ways should be found to render assessment less intimidating or threatening. A critical finding of the study is that assessment requires not only a high level of critical reflection, but also active engagement and discipline-specific knowledge by the lecturers to make the necessary changes for an assessment method where students’ learning is the centre of focus.