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Milestone Based Assessment: An Alternative Strategy For Assessing Laboratory Learning Outcomes

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

DELOS Best Paper Nominations

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.895.1 - 13.895.9



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Paper Authors


Euan Lindsay Curtin University of Technology

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Euan Lindsay completed a PhD in the field of Engineering Education at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in 2005. In 2004 he moved to Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia, where he is a Senior Lecturer in Mechatronic Engineering. His research interests include engineering education, telecontrol (particularly internet-based telecontrol), artificial neural networks, and rehabilitative technologies for people with sensing impairments. He is a member of the Executive of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education, and co-edits the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education.

Dr Lindsay was the recipient of a 2007 Carrick Award for Australian University Teaching. In 2005 he was named as one of the 30 Most Inspirational Young Engineers in Australia.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Milestone – Based Assessment: An Alternative Strategy for Assessing Laboratory Learning Outcomes


Engineering programs often feature units that contain a semester-long laboratory project, in which students complete an extended piece of work throughout the full duration of the semester. The traditional model of assessment for such units is for the students to present a series of demonstrations of intermediate stages throughout the semester – for instance, in weeks 5, 9 and 12. This approach can lead to large amounts of high-stress productivity in weeks 4, 8 and 11 and much frustration on the day as circuits that had previously been seen to be working don’t function under assessment conditions. There is also a danger that this kind of burst-mode learning promotes shallow learning, rather than emphasising deep learning outcomes. This paper presents an alternative assessment approach called “Milestone-Based Marking”. Simply put, students could be assessed at any time on the milestones that would otherwise have been set for the demonstrations. As incremental progress is made, students claim incremental marks, and are able to receive incremental feedback on their progress. In this way, the date of the deadline becomes the last opportunity at which credit for those milestones could be claimed, rather than the only opportunity. A further extension of this approach to improve assessment and feedback was to rate each of the milestones for difficulty – Easy, Standard, Hard or Challenging. The Easy and Standard milestones are intended to determine whether a student should pass or fail, while the Challenging milestones provide motivation for the students to extend themselves and enrich their learning. This rating and feedback process further assisted students in the management of their workload through the semester. Easy milestones require less effort than Hard milestones, providing students with a clear guide as to how best to invest their time and effort. One of the hidden benefits of the Milestone-based approach is that it changes the nature of the assessment from a purely summative process to a largely formative process. Students whose performances are borderline can be given specific feedback about what they need to do to reach the expected competency levels. The overall result of this initiative is that a strong majority of students believe that the assessment is a fair measure of their learning, and that the feedback they receive actively contributes to this learning process. They also overwhelmingly report that they are reflecting on their learning and becoming more independent learners.


The Mechatronic Engineering degree program at Curtin University of Technology has a strong hands-on focus, with students involved in semester long design and build activities in most semesters of the course. These activities are embedded in semester long units where the focus is upon applying what the students have learned, and in producing functional solutions to real-world (or near real-world) problems. A continuous assessment paradigm is used to assess the students in these units, to allow for faculty to evaluate the students’ work as they progress throughout the project.

The way in which students are assessed affects the way in which they engage with their learning1. The use of continuous assessment has meant that students work throughout the semester, rather than leaving everything to the last minute – almost. By setting deadlines

Lindsay, E. (2008, June), Milestone Based Assessment: An Alternative Strategy For Assessing Laboratory Learning Outcomes Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3196

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