The use of exemplars and self-assessment sheets are activities which are designed to help the students engage with and understand the assessment criteria. In the process they should become better prepared to receive feedback on their work. However there is still no guarantee that they will engage with and use the feedback. As previously discussed they may not fully appreciate the potential benefits to their learning. Perhaps there is an element of hyperbolic discounting: they keep meaning to read the feedback the next day. Unfortunately when the next day arrives they delay it again! This process continues with the student never looking at the feedback. Perhaps some assessment activities could be introduced which magnify the potential benefits and incentives of using the feedback. This could be within and across assignments. Also in some instances the feedback may have been read and understood and its full value appreciated. However the student still fails to improve because they simply do not know how to respond to the feedback. The following section will outline and assess some potential methods of dealing with some of these issues. They include:
The student submits a draft version of the assignment a few weeks before the deadline for the final copy. The draft could simply be an outline/plan or a draft of the final copy. The lecturer provides feedback on the draft which can then be used by the student to improve the final copy before submission. The rationale behind this type of assessment design is to magnify the incentives to the students of using the feedback provided by the tutor. The immediate usefulness and ‘feedforward’ of the comments should be more apparent. Hopefully the experience will have a lasting effect. Having seen the usefulness of feedback through the draft assignment it should help them to appreciate the potential usefulness and value of feedback provided on the final copy of subsequent assignments.
Students may game the system as they believe that they can effectively get the tutor to write the work for them. This problem could be made worse if multiple drafts were permitted. This fear was expressed very powerfully by an economics student at a focus group:
‘A student could put a small amount of effort into an initial draft that was worth about 40%. They would then receive guidance from the lecturer about how to make this piece of work worth 70%. I could work really hard on my draft copy and produce a piece of work worth 65% and get feedback on how to make it worth 70%. This is not fair because the lecturer is giving the lazy student a short cut to the high mark.’
The comment helps to illustrate an important point about the type of feedback provided on draft assignments. It should focus on how the student can improve their own work rather than feedback that directly improves the work. There is often a fine line between these two objectives.
Tutors may resist this type of assessment because of the potential increase in marking loads. However this could be overcome to some extent by only providing a mark on the final piece of work or very brief feedback. Also staff may worry that they will get more cases of students complaining on the grounds that they have carried out all the suggested improvements and have still got a relatively low mark. Another innovative way of dealing with the workload issue is to get the students to peer assess and provide feedback on the draft copies.
Care needs to be taken with the way feedback is provided on drafts. It needs to focus on the way the student can improve the work rather than being given feedback that directly improves the work.
This activity is used in the skills module outlined in the first detailed case study. Having completed the exemplar marking activity, the students have to write a 1000-word essay on an economist of their choice as part of the summative assessment. They are told that the essay must include an introduction, conclusion and some personal information about the economist. However it is stressed that the main part of the essay should include a detailed discussion and assessment of the economist’s contribution to the development of the subject. The innovative part of the assessment is the peer review process which is outlined below.
Concerns about the use of peer review have been expressed by both tutors and students.
A major issue with this type of activity is getting all the students to engage with the process in a meaningful way. Some initial attempts were made in the skills module to assess the quality of the feedback provided, i.e. by grading it and making it worth 10% of the final mark. However this proved difficult for a number of reasons. Deciding on criteria by which the feedback would be marked proved to be very problematic. The students were asked to write a minimum of three comments against each point. This resulted in them focusing on the quantity rather than the quality of the feedback. As one participant in the student focus group stated:
‘I wrote things just for the sake of it because it was being assessed.’
The marking added to the lecturers’ workload and delayed the time it took for the students to receive the feedback. Tutors had to collect the sheets at the end of the class and mark them before they could be returned to the student. It was judged by the tutors involved with the delivery of the module that the costs of assessing the feedback had outweighed the benefits.
There were a number of comments made in the student focus groups about the quality of the feedback provided by their peers and the worry that their work would be copied. Some students admitted that they would even try and game the system. Comments included:
‘I am worried that other students are not qualified enough to mark my work.’
‘I expect to receive feedback from an expert – not a novice.’
‘Because I would not be confident in the quality of the feedback received from other students, I would be less likely to act upon it.’
‘It would just give the lazy students a chance to copy my work.’
‘I would seriously consider leaving out some of the better bits from the version of my coursework that I submitted for peer review so that it could not be copied.’
One potential solution to the problem suggested by the students themselves would be to get the students from the year above to carry out the peer reviewing. It was felt that they would have more experience and expertise and also would not be able to plagiarise or steal good ideas. In addition when asked about their expectations or experience of this type of activity the students tended to focus on the benefits/weaknesses of receiving the feedback. They tended not to think about the potential benefits from the act of reviewing somebody else’s work. Perhaps some of these benefits need to be made clearer. For example the following advantages of peer reviewing could be stressed:
Expect students to have strong reservations about peer review. It is very important that the potential benefits are clearly explained before they take part in the activity. In particular spend some time focusing on the potential benefits from reviewing somebody else’s work.
Some students may find the reviewing process both difficult and stressful. They may feel uneasy about making critical comments if their identity is known by the reviewee. The whole process could be made less daunting by making it anonymous. Allocating the papers by student ID does create a certain level of secrecy in the activity previously outlined. However there is still a possibility that each student may become aware of exactly who else in the room is peer reviewing their work. The use of technology could be used to increase the level of anonymity by allowing the activity to take place outside the classroom. The Centre for Academic Writing at Coventry tried to develop software to do this. More recently a ‘Learning and Teaching Development Project’ has been funded by the Economics Network which evaluated the use of an online peer review system on an economics module. The software used in the project was the peer review function embedded within Turnitin which is used by many departments. Setting up peer review within Turnitin is a fairly straightforward three-step process.
For more details and evaluation see the final project report on the following link http://www.economicsnetwork.ac.uk/projects/mini/chew_international
The drawback of creating anonymity is that it reduces the opportunities for students to compare and discuss the peer review with colleagues. This is something that a number of them said they would find very useful. They also argued that they would have more confidence in the feedback and were more likely to respond to the comments if they were the agreed outcome of joint discussions. An alternative way of running peer review which encourages dialogue is outlined in the following section.
This activity would require a two-hour workshop and may get logistically complicated as the tutor would have to make sure that two students are looking at the same piece of work. This is more involved than in the exemplar activity where all the students are looking at the same pieces of work.
The draft submission clearly increases the incentives for students to engage with feedback as it can be immediately used to improve the final submission of that piece of work. The process happens within an assignment. Ultimately, the aim is to get students to appreciate how feedback can be used across different assignments. We want them to become fully aware of how they can use feedback in one assignment to help them improve their subsequent assignments. The following methods/activities magnify the incentives for the student to use feedback across different assignments.
As part of the submission for a piece of coursework students are asked to complete a form that asks them what feedback they have received in previous assignments. They are also asked to explain how this feedback has been used to help improve the current assignment. The process could be taken one stage further by setting a whole assignment on the use of feedback. One method that has been used on an economics module is outlined below.
The students are asked to write a 1000 word reflective essay with the following title ‘Identify your strengths, weaknesses, priorities and actions taken/actions required to close deficiencies with regard to your academic skills’. When answering the question students are asked to focus on the marks and feedback received. Each strength and weakness identified has to be evidenced with reference to a particular feedback comment. They are instructed to attach the feedback sheets in an appendix to the essay. They are also asked to complete a learning style questionnaire e.g. Honey and Mumford. Having identified their dominant learning style the student also has to assess the associated strengths and weaknesses of that learning style.
The timing of this type of activity/assessment can make it difficult for the students to collect enough evidence. If the assessment has to be completed by the end of the first term/semester then many students will have only received limited feedback on their work.
Perhaps the ideal time for this type of activity would be the beginning of the second year. Students could be asked to collect all of their first-year work and identify any key strengths or weaknesses. A really innovative approach would be to ask them to include feedback from their examination papers if that is possible.
This final assessment activity uses peer discussion to help students think about the most effective ways of responding to feedback. The activity works as follows:
A key part of the discussion could be based around how the student intends to work on improving any weaknesses. The student could be asked to develop an action plan which outlines how they will respond. The appropriate action will depend on the nature of the weakness identified. For example one prompt would be to ask if the feedback refers to any weaknesses or gaps in their understanding and application of economics. If this is the case they could be asked what they think is the most appropriate action. Are they simply going to look at the same textbook/material again or are they going to try and find alternative sources that explain the same principles but maybe in a way they can better understand? Have they thought about making an appointment with the lecturer to discuss the issue or have they considered discussing it with friends on the course. Another prompt would be to ask if some of the weaknesses are more generic in nature and relate to study skills. For example if the comments specify that academic writing skills are poor what could the student do about it? Where could they go for help? Are there any student support centres in the university where they can get help?