The following article provides an overview of assessment processes under the Southern Cross Model. Please see the further resources located at the end of this article for specific guidance.
The Importance of Assessment
Unit Assessors rely on assessment to gauge students' understanding of learning outcomes and identify areas for improvement (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). For students, assessment serves as a motivational tool by providing evidence of their success and encouraging further development. By evaluating student work through case study analysis, projects, or presentations, instructors can offer meaningful feedback that inspires effective learning practices (Frost et al., 2014). Moreover, assessment helps learners keep track of progress over time, fostering a sense of responsibility.
What does assessment look like in the Southern Cross Model?
At Southern Cross University, assessment must demonstrate and judge learning outcomes transparently and ensure authenticity and academic integrity. The Southern Cross Model framework ensures fair assessments and constructive feedback, and that units align unit learning outcomes (ULOs) with assessments.
Units may include a maximum of three assessment tasks, which should include one low-stakes task early in the term. Tasks should be interlinked, and build on students' progress towards the learning outcomes.
Given the short 6-week terms of the Southern Cross Model, consistent and efficient marking strategies, as well as concise, actionable feedback, are crucial.
What SCU Policy governs Assessment?
Assessment is fundamental to the role and registration of an institution as an Australian University. Qualifications awarded by universities must be designed and accredited on the basis of graduates being able to demonstrate learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and their application) that are appropriate for the qualification (Australian Qualifications Framework Council, 2013).
General assessment requirements for each unit are specified in an approved UCMS Unit Outline which includes the nature of assessments tasks, learning outcomes, length of the task and week due.
Constructive Alignment is foundational
The constructive alignment process is driven by SCU’s Curriculum Policy and Procedures, which require all courses and units that are new or are undergoing change to map connections (alignments) between CLOs, ULOs, learning activities and assessment tasks to support cohesive and engaging course design. A CAM spreadsheet must be completed as part of this process.
It is important to understand that any changes to assessment tasks can have implications beyond the unit itself, and require formal approval through the relevant Course and Unit Approval Authorities. Unit changes are also governed by the Curriculum Amendment procedures, which state that unit changes must be approved at least two weeks before the start of the term.
Stages of the assessment cycle
The assessment processes under the Southern Cross Model involve six key stages, as illustrated in the following graphic.
Stage 1: Designing assessments
The first stage of marking, feedback, and grading starts with assessment design. The assessment must be manageable and paired with constructively aligned rubrics that measure the unit learning outcomes (ULOs). More information about the first stage of marking, feedback, and grading is available in the following article: Designing assessments.
ISCM Assessment Design resource and Practical Guide
The academic Portfolio Office and the Centre for Teaching and Learning have developed a comprehensive Southern Cross Model resource, including an Assessment Design Module. For detailed guidance about the implementation of assessments, please visit the Practical Guide: Assessment in the Southern Cross model.
Assessments and Rubrics
Under the SCU Assessment, Teaching and Learning Procedures, all graded assessment tasks must be assessed using clear, explicit criteria in the form of rubrics, where appropriate, aligned to the Unit Learning Outcomes, and provided to students as part of the assessment task one week before term starts. For more guidance around using rubrics at Southern Cross University, please see the Recommendations and guidance for writing rubrics.
Stage 2: Scaffolding assessments for students
The second stage of marking, feedback, and grading is scaffolding assessments to students. To promote transparency and reduce student complaints, it is essential to ensure that students clearly understand how they will be assessed before they complete the assessment. This includes:
- Communicating assessment details to students (i.e. due dates, word limit, weighting etc.), including where to find the assessment links and details in Blackboard.
- Explaining to students what Learning Outcomes the assessment addresses.
- Clarifying to students how they will be marked and what is expected (i.e., explaining the rubric, reviewing exemplars, etc.).
- Proving appropriate resources – guides, templates, annotated exemplars, and learning activities – that support students in completing the assessment.
Organising assessment details in Blackboard
Consolidate assessment instructions, submission links, templates, and other related information in the "Assessment Tasks and Submission" section of the Blackboard unit site. This will ensure students can find assessment links and guidelines. You can also use the Assessment Brief Template to help design an assessment task.
Stage 3: Calibrating a marking strategy
The third stage of marking, feedback, and grading is developing a marking strategy across the marking teams – also known as calibration and moderation. This process will help markers to calibrate and establish a shared understanding of assessment expectations. The moderation process includes identifying the evidence required to meet achievement standards of Learning Outcomes and familiarizing markers with the criteria and descriptors in the assessment marking rubric. This process is facilitated by the Unit Assessor (UA) following the Moderation Guidelines, and involves all academic staff involved in the Unit.
It is important to note that the moderation and calibration process covers the entire unit delivery cycle:
- Part A - Before Term starts: initial calibration conversations about teaching and assessment alignment (Led by the Unit Assessor due end of week 1)
- Part B - During Term: ongoing calibration conversations to enhance assessment readiness and consistency of marking (all unit staff are involved)
- Part C - After Term: monitor grade allocation and quality of feedback through the Grade Centre (responsibility of the Unit Assessor)
University moderation and marking policy
It is important to use the Moderation Guidelines as a guiding framework for moderation meetings and the review of assessment samples.
As part of the moderation process, it is crucial to clearly communicate workload expectations around marking volume and turnaround time to the marking team. Marking must be completed within the 7-day marking deadline as per the Assessment, Teaching and Learning Procedures Policy (Section 4 - Assessment Submission, Marking and Feedback).
Stage 4: Marking students' work
The fourth stage of marking, feedback and grading pertains to making judgements about students' work. Marking is an integrated element of the entire assessment cycle, from designing assessment tasks to grading and providing student feedback. Once students have submitted their assessments, marking begins while the calibration and moderation process continues.
When making judgements about students' work:
- Focus on the Learning Outcomes of the assignment, how successfully they have been achieved in this assignment, and what can be done to improve.
- Use your professional expertise to assess how successfully each criterion has been met and mark the student accordingly. Aim to do this with accuracy, consistency, and transparency.
- Avoid making judgments based on personal preferences that are not reflected by the Unit Assessor. The marking team must be alert for any unconscious bias about particular students, their views, or abilities.
- Be mindful of grade variance or slippage during long marking sessions, often resulting from fatigue.
Check Grade Center before you mark!
All Unit Assessors are advised to ensure that their Grade Center is correctly set up before the team commences marking – to maintain grade integrity and ensure the grades process runs smoothly with no surprises. The following resource provides detailed guidance: Setting up your Grade Centre.
Digital Tools that support Marking, Grading and Feedback
The following digital tools are used at Southern Cross University to support marking, grading, and feedback.
- Blackboard Grading within the Grade Centre
- Using Turnitin rubrics for grading: Turnitin rubrics for grading
- Using Blackboard rubrics with Turnitin: Blackboard rubrics for grading
- Using Blackboard rubrics with Voicethread: Voicethread
- Using Blackboard Rubrics for other assessments: Blackboard assignments
- Releasing feedback for Blackboard quizzes: Blackboard tests
- Marking group assessments: Group assessments
Stage 5: Providing feedback and grades to students
Providing feedback and grades to students is an essential step that completes the assessment cycle. High-quality feedback provides students with a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in their learning, promoting self-reflection. Timely and constructive feedback can enhance student motivation and engagement. Feedback helps students set realistic and achievable goals and foster a growth mindset that builds lifelong learners.
When providing feedback to students:
- Organise your feedback around three central points. One point may be acknowledging what has been done well. The remaining two points could focus on practical things they could do to improve their current grade.
- Ensure the feedback is pitched to the right level. Remember, feedback is teaching. Ask yourself what is optimal for this student to hear at this point in their development (e.g. first year). Don’t overload your feedback with issues beyond their grasp. Use the marking rubric to guide the feedback necessary for each criterion.
- Consider using a feedback template to ensure consistency and efficiency of marking. An example feedback template can be accessed here: SCU College Feedback Template (login required).
Collective feedback encourages students
Consider providing collective feedback to support students to engage with feedback. This feedback might reiterate the Learning Outcomes of the assignment, noting areas that were handled well by most students, common misunderstandings, and how students can improve. This may include a discussion about the next integrated assessment task.
Collective feedback can be incorporated into a class workshop or shared as an announcement via the Blackboard learning site.
For more information about feedback, see Strategies for providing feedback.
Stage 6: Submitting Final Grades
Submitting final grades is a separate part of the marking, feedback, and grading process and has to be completed by the Unit Assessor (UA) at the end of each term. Final grades are submitted on Monday, week 8 of each term. They are monitored by The Discipline Chair before the Associate Dean of Education reviews the submitted grades on the following day. Final Grades are then released to students on Wednesday, Week 8, by Student Administration Services.
Understanding the Grades Process
You can access further detailed assessment resources from the links below.
- Assessment for learning
- Designing assessment
- Guide to Assessment Volume
- Types of assessment
- Assessing interaction and participation using Blackboard tools
- Using quizzes to evaluate student learning
- Marking, feedback and grading
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487
Frost, D., Smith, S., & Mainhard, M. T. (2014). Teacher feedback as a motivator of students’ cognitive and affective engagement. Educational Psychology Review, 26(1), 23-50.