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Awareness of the Backwash Effect of Assessment: A Phenomenographic Study of the Views of Hong Kong and Swedish Lecturers

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ISAIJLS Volume 33, Number 4, ISSN 0020-4277


An effective way to change student learning is to change the form of assessment. This has become known as the backwash effect of assessment. However, academic teachers' ways of understanding the role of assessment in student learning are also important. This paper reports a phenomenographic study of the views of the role of assessment amongst Swedish and Hong Kong university teachers. The results are described in eight categories of conceptions, placed within a two-dimensional outcome space. The two dimensions are (1) the relation between teaching and assessment, and (2) the focus of the backwash effect. The results indicate that two features of the described conceptions are critical for changing teachers' views of the role of assessment. One is the way one understands the significance of "basic knowledge" in one's discipline while the other is whether one looks upon the relation between teaching and assessment as being of an internal or external nature. As much research literature points out, to bring about changes in approaches to teaching and learning you must first bring about changes in conceptions of teaching and learning. To utilize assessment to improve student learning, teachers need to be made aware of the need of such improvement and of the role assessment can play in this process. On the basis of research such as that reported in this paper, staff developers could develop workshops or other strategies, which can accomplish this task.


Watkins, D., Dahlin, B. & Ekholm, M. (2005). Awareness of the Backwash Effect of Assessment: A Phenomenographic Study of the Views of Hong Kong and Swedish Lecturers. Instructional Science: An International Journal of the Learning Sciences, 33(4), 283-309. Retrieved September 21, 2023 from .

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