For practical subjects, this is the most obvious form of assessment: watch someone doing something to see if they can do it properly. It is the recommended default form for competency-based programmes such as NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications, in England and Wales).
- For assessment of practical skills, which can be demonstrated by performance.
- For any area in which performance itself is not enough, direct observation needs to be supplemented by other methods. NVQs recommend oral questioning, to get at the rationale of performance.
- Sampling: one observation is not enough, but there is a trade-off, because observation is an extremely expensive way of assessing.
- Need for clear assessment criteria: reliability is only assured when everyone engaged in the assessment process is perfectly clear about what is being looked for, and what evidence is required to determine competence. Developing observation protocols is not a trivial activity.
- Control for context: one of the difficulties of assessing teaching by direct observation, for example, is that some classes and topics are far more difficult to teach than others.
- Ensure that product evidence is gathered and retained wherever possible, including video-recordings etc. When evidence consists of check-lists or similar devices, ensure that the student has a copy as soon as possible, and that there is an opportunity for dissenting views of a particular occasion of observation to be recorded. Direct practice is ephemeral, and judgements may later be contested.
- See work practice