Assessing project-based learning in Computing

John PartridgeHow do you assess project-based learning? John Partridge explains how he has approached this issue.

In a my previous article, on project-based learning in the Computing curriculum,  I explained the reasoning behind a project based learning model and why I believe it works. Moving learning out of discrete units into larger projects is of course less neat, by design. Work no longer fits into neat packages which can be neatly assessed and tracked.

I’d like to reflect briefly on why that is overall a good thing. The primary driver behind a project approach is it shows students where their learning fits into the bigger picture and also how all the strands of technology weave together.

The downside to this blurring of topics and mixing of strands is that it can be harder to assess. Conceptually students are moving between different learning fluidly, often covering multiple areas at the same time. So how can you assess their progress? Which is after-all the heart of Ofsted guidance (

There are a few things you can do to make it work. Firstly, project learning needs a real focus on consistent language. I think this is a great idea however you teach, but in project learning it’s critical. Students need to be able to link what they’re doing to prior and future learning. If you’re teaching programming then those key-terms like variable, statement, iteration, algorithm, loop should be the ones you’re using. You need to do this deliberately and explicitly. This allows students to link what they’re doing now to the last time it featured in a project. It allows you to consolidate their understanding, build on their prior knowledge and extend it further.

This consistent use of vocabulary also supports your assessment. It will help you focus on the knowledge and skills you’re trying to build and then you can give useful feedback to students on their progress.

This feeds into a model of assessment which matches project learning, which is to assess strands of knowledge and skills. At our centre we use the same strands for assessment we use in project work: presenting information, data handling, computer science and digital literacy.  Each time students do an element of a project we flag to them which of these strands it fits within as well as the knowledge and skills we’re covering – which is where the consistent literacy is critical. The mark within each strand refers to their mastery of it. At present we’re trialling this under a Blooms taxonomy style set of statements. This goes from an ability to remember knowledge and skills up to creating using them, which is the highest level of mastery. We describe that to students as almost total independence, where students are leading their learning.

What I want from a student is the ability to approach a project, be able to analyse and evaluate how best to approach it and then the ability to tackle it with confidence, creativity and also to a high standard. If a student shows that level of independence, I feel that is what success looks like.

Finally, an added benefit of this approach is that it gives more granular detail to student assessment the one subject level never did, whilst keeping the assessment burden for staff at a realistic level.

About John Partridge

John Partridge is Assistant Head for eLearning at the Minster School in Southwell. He has ten years experience as a subject leader for Computing/ICT and has spoken at a number of events across the country about the new curriculum changes. His wider work in the subject area was recognised through a Naace Impact award in 2013

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