Book review 1 Victoria Burns (2015 ed.) 53 interesting ways to assess your students. 3rd Edition. 2 Newmarket: The Professional and Higher Partnership £19.81 (RRP) ISBN 978-1-907076-52-7
I wouldn't usually start a book review with a personal point of context, but when the first edition of this book by Gibbs, Habeshaw and Habeshaw was published in 1986 I was still in primary school. While many early 21st century books look decidedly dated the '53 ways' series is sufficiently enduring that 30 year-old copies of the various '53 ways' books remain on the shelves of our Centre for Learning and Teaching library and are still consulted by early career lecturers taking the PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education course.
Each '53 ways' book consists of 53 'ideas' of 2-3 pages each. For example in 53 interesting ways to assess your students way 1 is actually an introduction to choosing assessment methods, way 2 is 'the standard essay', way 20 is 'writing for the Internet' and way 36 is the 'seen exam'. These ways are grouped together in chapters ; for example Chapter 1 (ways 2-4) is called 'Essays' and Chapter 9 (ways 33-38) is 'Examinations'. Each assessment way is then described and explained and the strengths and limitations of each form of assessment is briefly considered. Strictly speaking there are more than 53 assessment ways as many ways have variations on the theme.
As with other '53 ways' this volume can be read from beginning to end, flicked through or dipped in and out of at the reader's pleasure. New and experienced lecturers alike will find treasures here; I thought the 'learning archive' (way 29) whereby students are set the same question in years 1, 2 and 3 and are given the opportunity to reflect on their intellectual development particularly interesting. Framed in the context of the 2010 Equality Act, Way 51 on inclusive assessment and equal opportunities is useful for UK readers, but will no doubt be helpful to others too. It was also positive to see a chapter of ways devoted to feedback as well.
Inevitably, every reader will identify omissions. Many of our PGCert participants write about Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs), and although a fairly specialist assessment discipline-wise they are probably worthy of a place in the book, and could fit nicely into the chapters on authentic assessment or problem-based assessment. Similarly field trips/ visits might have been included, but perhaps they didn't sit well in a publication aimed at a general academic audience, or may have made the '53' difficult to achieve. '53 ways' books are not and do not purport to be in-depth theorisations of their subjects and when introducing assessment and feedback I like to 'drill deep' with the principles and purposes of assessment with other texts; I see '53 ways' as a good quality accompaniment to a module on assessment and feedback rather than a core text.
For the benefit of readers familiar with previous editions the publisher's foreword (p. ix) helpfully outlines the connections between Burns' editorial work and the previous work of Gibbs and his colleagues. A balance has been nicely struck between producing a work which is fit for purpose in the second decade of the 21st century while maintaining the approach and appeal of the earlier editions which lies in the accessibility, diversity and brevity of the 53 ways. A balance has also been struck between maintaining content from previous editions while introducing new material, the most notable development between the second and third editions being the small matter of the World Wide Web! Not only have new assessment ideas such as 'Writing for the Internet' and 'Designing Multimedia materials' been added a substantial amount the material is actually new material developed by Burns and her team.
In conclusion I highly recommend that lecturers at any stage of their career take time to look at '53 interesting ways to assess your students'. Although I suspect many of its readers will be academics at the beginning of their careers I particularly hope it will challenge experienced lecturers who have long relied on traditional staples such as unseen exams and set essays to see the rich possibilities of assessment.