From industry to education: Getting it right for learners and the assessment community

by The Assessment Network, 06 October 2021
Man smelling wine in front of wine barrels

Tom Cherry is Head of Qualifications at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and has studied on three of Cambridge Assessment Network’s four A10 series of online courses. After working in the drinks industry for nearly 20 years (8 of those being with WSET), he’s found the Network courses “invaluable“- providing a framework with which to measure the quality and integrity of his assessments. 

Here he talks to us about wanting to get assessment right for his industry, the learners, and the wider assessment community.

The drinks industry wasn't my first career, I did something far less fulfilling beforehand. I moved into drinks because I was interested in them – no surprise there – and it was a good move for me!

When I started out, I was inquisitive and really wanted to understand the industry. I found myself leaning towards some sort of formal education as that was how I was used to learning. 

There are quite limited structured education options in wines and spirits, as you might expect. My first employer sponsored me through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses and as I took on more senior roles for both wine and pub companies I was able to focus on product-training across the different drinks categories.

I wanted to contribute to the educational mission in the wine and spirits industry.

8 years ago the opportunity came up to actually work for WSET. From a practical point of view I wanted to return to a more conventional work-life balance. But I also wanted to contribute to the educational mission in the wine and spirits industry. 

That may sound cheesy, but over the years product knowledge is something I've seen get overlooked. There's often an assumption that if you work in the pub industry, you just pull pints, but there's a lot more behind that if you want there to be.

Finding a sense of objectivity

At WSET we provide assessments in wine, spirits and sake, and soon we will be diversifying into beer too, so exciting times! But we are known primarily as a leading wine educator and assessor.

I work in the qualifications department, which is part the academic division. Think of it as the awarding body or exam board for our organisation. 

We’re a team of subject and assessment specialists responsible for the content of the tests we provide - writing questions, creating and translating exams, marking, verifying, and performing candidate enquiries and feedbacks. 

We're also in charge of the design and development of the assessments, the assessment methodology underlying them, and their performance. Many of our qualifications are regulated by Ofqual, and we have compliance commitments there too.

The company is growing quickly, and that has demanded a re-focus on staff training, education, and professional development. So there's been active encouragement for us to take responsibility for our own training plans. Around 2–3 years ago I decided to research opportunities to study assessment, and The Assessment Network was offering what I felt were appropriate options.

I've now done three of the A10 courses, which I must say I've enjoyed and found really rewarding, as well as quite challenging in their different ways.

I've now done three of the A10 courses, which I must say I've enjoyed and found really rewarding, as well as quite challenging in their different ways.

I think the most valuable thing they've given me is a sense of objectivity. What I mean by objectivity is that in doing them my focus has transitioned from being essentially inward looking - worrying about my specific assessments and my customers - to being a part of an assessment community where my responsibilities are as much about the values of assessment per se

It's about seeing WSET qualifications as part of a wider framework of assessment with shared common principles. 

What I mean by objectivity is that in doing them my focus has transitioned from being essentially inward looking - worrying about my specific assessments and my customers - to one of being a part of an assessment community where my responsibilities are as much about the values of assessment per se

I've seen that there are people working for different organisations with whom I share common professional ground. The context is completely different, but we speak a common language when it comes to assessment integrity.

I recognised this after I'd finished A101. But the feeling has strengthened as I've completed subsequent courses. I think much of it is down to interaction with other people on the online forums, and the increasing awareness of the existence of a whole assessment community that this interaction brings.

A healthy questioning of our practices

A101 was invaluable in reinforcing fundamental principles - validity, fairness, reliability and so on. These are paramount to successful assessment irrespective of the context. 

A102 fleshed out the delivery side. Whilst not everything in that course was directly or obviously relevant to what I do, it nonetheless caused me to question my current practices, which I think is healthy. For example, the course systematically addresses specifications, learning outcomes, marking keys, delivery, moderation - those kinds of processes. It caused me to question how my organisation approaches these, something I might otherwise never have questioned. 

I took A104 specifically to look at the mechanics of interpreting datasets and principles behind reporting methodology. 

I found A104 more challenging because there was a fair bit of study of different and quite sophisticated approaches to numerical analysis, which I hadn't done for a while!

That course was more directly relevant to projects my department will be undertaking over the next couple of years. We're investing a lot of resource in developing the reporting function and other back-end processes and I took A104 specifically to look at the mechanics of interpreting datasets and principles behind reporting methodology. 

An architecture around which to consider assessment concepts

I would say that I had an innate awareness of (and indeed I actively employed) assessment principles before I studied on the courses. However, they'd never been formally defined for me in my work context.

The Assessment Network courses have given me an assessment vocabulary, a structured, coherent way of thinking about assessment concepts, and some invaluable practical expertise in applying solutions. 

The Assessment Network courses have given me an assessment vocabulary, a structured, coherent way of thinking about assessment concepts, and some invaluable practical expertise in applying solutions. 

They have provided a relevant intellectual architecture to question approaches, and mechanisms for evaluation which are meaningful and quantifiable. 

Effective application of learning

There’s a lot of IT development going on in my business right now; the whole infrastructure of how we create assessments and scrutinise them is up for review.

So I’ve been thinking about questions such as: how do we monitor fairness? How do we retain comparability? How do we access sufficient data to inform decisions? What is a meaningful dataset in respect of what we do?

And as these developments come to fruition and go-live in my workplace, I'll have a far sounder understanding of the kind of data I'm looking for, how to interpret that and thus how best to observe the principles that these courses have emphasised.

Doing the right thing by the assessment community

I feel I have a sense of purpose in the industry that I'm in. I believe there is a place for education in the drinks industry and there is real value in the kind of education we give. 

I can do the right thing by the industry by creating assessments with the right content. But I can do the right thing by the assessment community by backing that up with responsible and principled assessment methodology. And I see those two things as quite distinct.

So I guess my professional identity has two elements - an assessment practitioner on the one hand and also a promoter of expertise in my industry on the other.

I can do the right thing by the industry by creating assessments with the right content. But I can do the right thing by the assessment community by backing that up with responsible and principled assessment methodology.

I plan to do the Postgraduate Advanced Certificate in Educational Assessment next year.  My expectation is that it will assist me in leading my organisation’s front-to-back review of our assessment infrastructure through its emphasis on the evaluation and application of principles in specific professional contexts. 

And I look forward to re-engaging with the dynamic and collaborative learning environment that Cambridge Assessment Network provides.

This is part of a new series of stories about our assessment practitioner community. Some of the themes here can be explored further in our assessment professional learning framework, a statement about what we think meaningful professional learning in assessment looks like and how it can be achieved. It provides a structure for thinking about how we can ensure positive impacts of professional learning and how they can be measured.

Something as important as assessment benefits from sharing perspectives, exchanging ideas and debating the latest thinking. As the Assessment Network, we want to bring assessment practitioners together to share greater understanding. Why not join us?

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