The importance of assessment specialists

by Guest Blogger, 05 February 2020
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It takes an army of people to ensure that assessment standards are upheld in everything we do, from setting the exams to marking and moderating them. As an organisation, we work with assessment specialists at every stage of the assessment cycle.

Ever wondered who the people are behind all this? We caught up with Helen Ash, who works with Cambridge Assessment in a number of different capacities, including as Principal Examiner for Cambridge IGCSE First Language English and Monitor/Educator for Cambridge Assessment Network’s online training courses, A101: Introducing the Principles of Assessment and A102: Introducing Assessment Practice.

Where did your career begin, and what do you do now?

I started my career teaching English and worked as Head of English in both state and independent schools in the UK. In the early years of my career I took on some moderating responsibilities with OCR as an opportunity for professional development. Gaining experience in moderating and then marking was really beneficial to my teaching. I learnt what it is learners need to know, what they need to be able to show they can do, and how to help them build the relevant skills.

Helen Ash headshot

I’ve had a number of roles across Cambridge Assessment over the years, but now I primarily work as Lead Principal Examiner for First Language English IGCSE at Cambridge International. I also support The Network as Monitor/Educator on its online courses and work as a consultant and trainer.

I divide my time between France and the UK, which means there are fewer opportunities for me to get into the classroom – but I am interested in returning to teaching at some point in the future. Perhaps somewhere I have visited as a Cambridge trainer - Africa or South America.

How would you describe your role of Monitor/Educator on the online courses?

With the online courses, you see people coming together from all around the world who would never meet ‘in real life’

You could think of the role as that of a facilitator – not so much a tutor or teacher, but more of a support or guide if and when you are needed. You are there to encourage discussion, perhaps to prompt more detailed debate or highlight an aspect of a topic that the group has not yet considered. You work through the materials in real time with participants and can offer individual help where appropriate.

I hate to say the ‘j’ word, but it is really about the learning journey. You start with a group of people you don’t know, and you learn about their context and experiences. I read posts from people working in different backgrounds, systems and countries, with a wide range of roles and responsibilities – it’s a really collaborative learning experience.

What are the main benefits of the online courses?

With the online courses, you see people coming together from all around the world who would never meet ‘in real life’. Hearing a different perspective makes you reassess what you know, or what you think you know. The discussion forums provide an opportunity for cross fertilisation of ideas. When you explain a concept, it helps you to synthesise your understanding and to reflect both on your work and your learning. We are all in danger of making assumptions, but when people really engage and talk to each other, they get something they weren’t expecting. Reflection is an important part of professional development - you don’t know what you don’t know until you hear it from someone else.

The flexibility of the online learning environment appeals hugely to participants – even if they may have been a little sceptical about online courses beforehand. If you need or want to work at 3am, or have to study at different points each week, you can do so. Likewise, you can easily return to activities and revisit discussions at a later point to help refine your understanding. At the end of the course if there’s a particular aspect you found interesting and want to follow up on you can do so in a course assignment.

Why study assessment?

Whatever your role, these courses can help you to understand the contribution we all make – and that can give you a real sense of pride in your work. It brings people together.

I’ve always been interested in the full story behind assessment – how everything slots together. Whether I’m working across qualifications or at different points in the assessment cycle, understanding the different challenges and considerations of each helps to fill in that overall picture and hopefully makes me better and more effective at what I do.

I think it is important to have an appreciation for the underlying principles of assessment, as this is what helps you understand what you are doing, and why you are doing it. You see the value in your work.

Whatever your role, these courses can help you to understand the contribution we all make – and that can give you a real sense of pride in your work. It brings people together.

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