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This paper investigates the use of multimodal representations to assess biological understanding in the final senior secondary school public examination in New South Wales, Australia. The investigation emanates from a larger Australian study concerned with the impact of disciplinary and technological innovations on science pedagogy, particularly in molecular genetics where much knowledge is represented in modalities other than, or in conjunction with, language and traditional print-based texts and visuals. The availability of digital technologies and their affordances for the learning and teaching of senior high school Biology now makes it realistic for examiners to include multimodal representations in assessment tasks. A qualitative analysis of final-year Biology examination papers from 2001 to 2013 identified and classified the multimodal representations included in this written external examination. Findings indicate that despite the ready availability of multimodal, multimedia representations in classroom learning and curriculum materials, and evidence of students’ engagement with ICT, the high-stakes examinations make little use of such resources. A consequence of this mismatch between curriculum outcomes and assessment tools is that students may be disadvantaged because their in-depth knowledge and understanding of biological concepts is not effectively demonstrated through traditional pen-and-paper tests. A move towards a range of alternative assessment formats is one way to ensure that assessment aligns with multimodal learning in the classroom.


School of Education

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Journal Article

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