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Where does the art of good assessment practice lie? Needless to say, assessment is a tricky issue. Firstly, because evaluation is intrinsically subjective; secondly, because the assessment evaluator is an interested party, that is, teachers must judge the results of their own work once the course has finished. As if this were not enough, Europe is living these days an authentic revolution in higher education, which will culminate with the establishment of the European Higher Education Area led by standards and guidelines for quality assurance. In addition, the redefining of accreditation criteria by national organizations such as ANECA (the spanish equivalent to ABET) forces faculty members to develop a new assessment culture in engineering education which must include further evaluation of current assessment techniques. In this scenario, new educational programs must clearly establish course objectives (what graduates are expected to attain within a few years of instruction), student outcomes (what students are expected to know and be able to do -skills, knowledge, and behaviors-, by the time of graduation) and furnish ways of designing assessments that address needs for which traditional assessment methods are inadequate.
Traditional evaluation approaches consider assessment as a single examination that takes place at the end of the learning process. However, it is now well known that the assessment itself is a tool for learning and that when combining different forms of assessment (namely, self-, peer, and co-assessment) students are encouraged to become more responsible and reflective. With these preliminaries behind us, we have designed an innovative method of assessment, which has been applied to a problem-based learning experience during a course on digital signal processing for junior electrical engineering students. Our approach has two major components. On the one hand, learning outcomes are explicitly explained to students through rubrics; this is a crucial step in order to assess the effectiveness of the assessment. On the other hand, a four-tier evaluation model has been designed, including (a) self- and peer assessment, in the side of the students; and (b) instructors and external assessors, on the part of teaching staff. In this study, we report preliminary results of its implantation and some conclusions about the different ways that students and teachers perceive learning outcomes. In summary, assessment, as any other skill, must be taught and learned before applying it successfully.