Synoptic Assessment

What is synoptic assessment?

A synoptic assessment combines two or more modules of undergraduate study into a single assessment. Such an assessment may help students to make connections between modules, increase the level of student engagement and provide teaching staff with the opportunity to adopt a holistic approach to delivering modules. The general aim of a synoptic assessment is the “undoing” of the increasing modularisation of the curriculum. The importance of the process of learning as distinct from the outcome of learning is given more attention within this model.

Synoptic assessment - how can it be used on courses where it is appropriate?

This method combines assessments over modules and across subjects. It expects students to transfer knowledge and skills and helps them see how issues and themes connect. The QAA Code of Practice 'Section 7 - Assessment of Students' September 2006 specifically defines it as:

"An assessment that encourages students to combine elements of their learning from different parts of a programme and to show their accumulated knowledge and understanding of a topic or subject area.  A synoptic assessment normally enables students to show their ability to integrate and apply their skills, knowledge and understanding with breadth and depth in the subject. It can help to test a student's capability of applying the knowledge and understanding gained in one part of a programme to increase their understanding in other parts of the programme, or across the programme as a whole."

Synoptic assessment is well regarded in the sector with plenty of evidence from research papers and good practice case-studies.  Many students like it and find it relevant. When carefully designed into the curriculum, it enhances links between modules and reduces "compartmentalised" learning approaches. It would be eminently suitable in our refocused curricula. It encourages deep learning through its emphasis on vertical and horizontal integration of the subjects being studied. This is supported by our course development principles which emphasises integration and having a course level assessment strategy.

It can carefully be used to assess two (or more) modules at one level (across one or two semesters). Synoptic assessment suits project work which may take place over one academic year but care needs to be taken to make sure the project terms and aims can encompass the breadth of the learning outcomes which need to be assessed. Students, on their new refocused courses, need to feel that they are not over assessed and have clear instructions and expectations of the assessment.  The language of the steps to the summative assessment must clearly indicate that it is formative to that point.

Where synoptic assessment fails is when it is not built in at the course design phase and where module teams don't communicate well enough with each other.

Module learning outcomes not assessed by the synoptic method will need to be addressed by another form of summative assessment in the time frame of the module itself.

The CETL ALiC has also done much work on this and we have a history of good practice in the University in this area. Both Durham and Leeds Metropolitan Universities introduced the synoptic assessment approach in the students' second year of study (Level 2) in the academic year 2006/07, and have since continued to use and evaluate this learning model. At Leeds Met in the Faculty of Innovation North, a synoptic assessment is used to help students to obtain knowledge by sharing, problem-solving and creating rather than passive listening. This initiative was supported by CETL ALiC, and aims at identifying and enabling ways in which students can become more active in their learning.

The PIPELINE synoptic assessment is a good example which assesses 3 modules across one semester. Synoptic assessment may not naturally fit under the two summative assessment points proposed in the new framework and you may need to introduce more formative assessment points during the time span of the process. There is a possibility that students could perceive / feel that they are being over assessed. If, however, students are clear about their performance and assessment criteria and it feels "seamless" to them, then synoptic assessment can still be appropriate.  Staff need to think clearly about whether students are being or might feel overloaded by this means of assessment.  If the assessment method is cumulative, are students clear about how the different elements build to form a synoptic assignment? How are you integrating formative assessment into the process?

If you want to check if synoptic assessment would be appropriate for your course in the undergraduate framework then you should ask your Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching.

You can also contact staff in the Centre for Learning and Teaching for advice. They will be able to put you in contact with colleagues who have expertise in this area.

There is also guidance on assessment on the ALT- resources pages of the Centre for Learning and Teaching  website. Pages 85-88 contain a useful checklist on choosing assessment methods in general.

Gorra, A., Harrison, G., Munn, A. (2008) Supporting faculty in the adoption of a synoptic teaching and learning approach: a case study from the UK. In: International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 2008 Conference, Edmonton, Canada, 16-19 October 2008. 
Gorra, A., Sheridan-Ross, J., Kyaw, P. (2008) Synoptic learning and assessment: Case studies and experiences. In: Proceedings of the 9h Annual HE Academy - ICS conference, Liverpool Hope University, 26th - 28th August 2008. 
Gorra A., Lazarevski S., and Campbell J., (2007) An Account of the Use of Integrated Assessment for Students in the Area of Databases at Level 2. Teaching Learning and Assessment of Databases (TLAD), University of Glasgow, 2nd July 2007. 
Harrison G., Gould H. (2007) Getting it All Together: Initiatives in Cross-Module Delivery and Assessment. The 8th Annual Conference of the Subject Centre for Information and Computer Science, University of Southampton, August 28 - 30, 2007. 
Kyaw P., and Drummond S., (2007) Synoptic learning and assessment: An experience report. The 8th Annual Conference of the Higher Education Academy, University of Southampton, 28th - 30th Aug 2007 
Showing 5 items from page Synoptic Assessment Resources sorted by edit time. View more »