Illuminating the assessment practices of teachers in NZ outdoor education tertiary programmes : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education (Adult Education) at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
The purpose of this research study was to illuminate the assessment practices of tertiary outdoor education teachers in the polytechnic sector. Outdoor education as a theoretical model and practice was quickly revealed as a contested space. One of the main issues in contention was the place of outdoor recreation, adventure and risk within outdoor education. There appeared a strong move by academics (M. Brown & Fraser, 2009; Irwin, 2010; Martin, 2005a) to reposition outdoor education as environmental and sustainability education.
The data was gathered through a questionnaire, observation of teachers as they assessed students, and from interviews with teachers. Using an illuminative evaluation approach, three themes were identified: teacher perceptions of assessment, the focus of assessment, and the practices used to make assessment decisions.
Teachers were generally highly skilled outdoor education practitioners, however, there were indications that there were gaps of understanding of theoretical assessment concepts. Teachers seemed to find summative assessment challenging but they routinely used formative assessment to promote learning and worked hard at providing quality opportunities for learning. Outdoor recreation in outdoor education was not contested by these teachers, although there was an over-emphasis on assessing technical outdoor pursuit skills, which resulted in a lack of assessment of other less tangible aspects of outdoor education. The use of assessment criteria was common practice although there were questions about how clearly these described the standard. The role of professional judgement in assessment decisions were treated with suspicion because it was seen as too subjective. However, it became clear that professional judgement was an essential aspect of their assessment practices. Criteria and professional judgement revealed themselves as mutually inclusive.
In conclusion, while teachers seem very skilled at providing quality-learning experiences, there appear to be opportunities to further develop teacher assessment practices, for example, through exploring approaches that assess less tangible aspects of practice such as leadership, judgement and decision-making.