The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

3.4.1 Increasing the incentive for students to engage with feedback within an assignment

Draft assignments

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.

Some reservations about the use of draft assignments:

Some students may try and game the system so others believe it is unfair

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.

Impact on the workload of the tutors

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.

Top tip

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.

Case study 2 – Using peer review to provide feedback on draft assignments

Background

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.

The activity

  • Two weeks before the essay deadline students are instructed to bring a 1000-word draft version of the final copy of their assignments to a workshop. This draft version must have the student’s ID clearly written at the top of the paper but the student’s name must not be visible on the assignment to ensure anonymous marking.
  • It is clearly stated in the assignment guidelines that if the student does not bring a copy of their work that they will be unable to take part in the peer review process. This has implications if the peer review and feedback is part of the summative assessment.
  • The workshop tutor collects the draft essays from the students as they enter the classroom and then randomly redistributes them.
  • Each student is given 35–40 minutes to peer mark the piece of work they have been given. In order to guide them through the process they are given a feedback template which is a simplified version of the assessment criteria. The template has a number of headings with space left below each one so that the students are able to write a number of comments. They are told to write a minimum of three comments under each of the following headings:
    • Introduction – Is there an introduction or does the essay launch straight into the main body of the essay? If an introduction is included to what extent does it outline how the question/topic will be answered?
    • Organisation – Has the material in the essay been structured into paragraphs in a way which allows for a logical development of ideas and arguments? Does it ‘flow’ or is it difficult to follow?
    • Relevance – To what extent is the material provided relevant and applied to the question/topic?
    • Depth of analysis – Have all arguments/points been fully developed? Has the author adopted a critical stance or is it purely descriptive?
    • Language and grammar – Is it written in an appropriate academic style? Is the meaning always clear or is it sometimes difficult to follow? Are the grammar, spelling and punctuation correct?
  • The tutor moves around the room making sure that the students are engaging with the activity and answering any questions. Most of the questions will be about the ‘depth of analysis’ criteria.
  • At the end of the session the tutor collects the assignments with the peer feedback sheets and immediately staples them together. The tutor then simply calls out the ID of the student and they collect their work with the stapled peer feedback.
  • When the students submit the final copy of their coursework they have to explain how they used the peer feedback in order to amend/improve the final version. If they chose to ignore the peer feedback provided they must explain why.

Some reservations about the use of peer review:

Concerns about the use of peer review have been expressed by both tutors and students.

Concerns expressed by tutors – will the students take the process seriously?

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.

Concerns expressed by students – the quality of the feedback and plagiarism

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:

  • It is valuable because it may reveal issues you might want to consider in your own work.
  • It will develop your own critical thinking and help you to become a better writer yourself.
  • It will help you to better understand the assessment criteria used by the tutor to mark your work.

Top tip

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.

Alternative ways of organising the peer review process: anonymity vs. discussion/ dialogue

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.

  • Step 1 – Assignment: the tutor has to determine which assignment will have the peer review.
  • Step 2 – Distribution: the tutor has to decide how many assignments each student will peer review and how they will be allocated. Turnitin enables the tutor to choose between three allocation systems:
    • automatically and randomly allocated by the ‘Turnitin’ system;
    • manually selected by the instructor;
    • self-selected by the student.
    A combination of the different methods can be chosen.
  • Step 3 – Questions: the tutor has to set the criteria/questions that the students will use to carry out the peer review.

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.

  • The students are asked to bring at least two copies of their assignment.
  • The tutor places them in non-friendship groups of three or four. Each student is asked to read and review the assignments of two other students in the group.
  • The students are given 30 minutes to mark each assignment.
  • The two peer reviewers for each assignment are instructed to spend 15 minutes comparing their thoughts and ideas before producing an agreed set of comments.
  • The lecturer should move from group to group during the activity and check the feedback and marking of one of the assignments in each group to make sure they are appropriate.
  • At the end of the session the student receives the agreed feedback on their work and must explain how they have used this feedback in their final submission.

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.