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Assessment Compact Good Practice Exemplars

Feed forward to develop academic writing

Feed forward to develop academic writing

What’s the story?

This is a large, first year module in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. One of its aims is to develop students’ academic writing skills. In line with the assessment compact the module leader introduced a formative assessment task employing self and peer assessment and an opportunity to gain timely feed forward relevant to their final course work assignment.

Module Information

Faculty: HLS
Department: Clinical Health Care
Module name and Code: U43702 Development of the Human Body and Mind
Level: 4
Number of students: approx. 300
Module leader: Paul Ong
Contact details: prong@brookes.ac.uk, ext 2635

Aspects of the assessment compact scrutinised in this case study

This case study concerns an intervention concentrating on two Compact clauses:

Clause 2.5 – “students are given supportive, constructive and timely feedback as an essential part of their learning … and have a clear sense of what they need to do to improve, with subsequent opportunities provided to act on the feedback and to put the advice given into practice”

Clause 2.6 – “activities (e.g. marking exercises, self and peer-assessment, etc.) specifically designed to involve students in assessment, to encourage dialogue between students and their tutors, and students and their peers, and to develop their abilities to make their own informed judgements (assessment literacy).”

What aim(s) did you have in changing your assessment approach?

The aim was to introduce formative assessment into a module that formerly did not have any. Another specific aim was to develop better support for first year students’ academic writing.

What change(s) did you actually make?

To do this we introduced a formative, week 6, assessment submission. The assignment is to present a draft of the first part of the major course work assessment that is to be submitted in week 12 of the first semester. The formative assessment involves two stages. In Week 5 students present their drafts to their peer support group and gain feedback from peers. Then, in week 6 they submit their drafts as a Turnitin assignment. Turnitin is being used formatively to help students check their referencing. In week 7 seminars staff give feedback on their drafts, including analysis of the Turnitin originality reports.

How did you evaluate this intervention?

Three sets of data were collected and analysed. The final results of cohorts were compared, to check whether students improved their academic writing in general and their performance on the major course work in particular. The standard module evaluation questionnaire was analysed for responses relating to assessment and feedback. And finally, an anonymous questionnaire (with 31 respondents) specifically on the formative assignment was administered in week 7 of semester 2, 2012.

What do students say about this intervention?

  • This formative assignment was highly valued by all 31 respondents to the survey. A substantial majority explicitly recommends making NO changes to it in future while those changes recommended were of a relatively minor nature. Table 1 shows further details.
Learning how to improve their grade or performance

E.g. The feedback I have received is clear and will help me to hopefully rework my part one before final deadline, so I can achieve a better standard. (Resp 03)

12 respondents (39%)
Getting direction on how to progress

E.g. the formative feedback as it gives direction as to where to go next with the essay (Resp 04)

8 respondents (26 %)
Learning what is expected of me

E.g. Being able to send a draft to turn it in and also to the tutor, as it showed me the level I am at as I had no idea. (Resp 12)

8 respondents (26 %)
Gaining confidence

E.g. The understanding of how to write an essay has improved a lot and the knowledge of where I have gone wrong and how to improve. It has given me more confidence. (Resp 26)

5 respondents (16%)
Learning what I’ve done wrong

E.g. assignment seminar 2–helped us understand where we were going wrong and gave us a lot of confidence that what we had written was at least partly what was expected. (Resp 02)

4 respondents (13%)
  • Many, if not most, respondents felt they lacked the skills to self-assess their work effectively and/or did not see the reason for doing so. Many described this part of the task as ‘hard’. In future runs of this assignment students will need help in understanding the rationale for this aspect and additional support with conducting it.
  • The vast majority (81%) viewed the peer learning elements very favorably, although a few gained or perceived less value in it than perhaps they could. This might be partially explained by members having been absent for group presentations and/or being un- or under-prepared to give each other feedback.

What has been the impact of this change in assessment?

Despite giving over two seminars to assessment (as opposed to course content) there was an overall improvement in results between both the semester 1 and 2 2009-10 cohorts over the preceding year. Average marks improved over the previous year by 3 % for the semester 2 run and 11% for the semester 2 run. Although there was little change to the number of resits in the semester 1 run, the number of resits in the semester 2 run fell to one third of the previous year.

Importantly, we found a significant impact of the formative assignment on subsequent performance in the final coursework assignment. Almost 50% of students improved their mark by one grade band or more between their formative and summative assignments. Just over a third (38%) made no change in their grade band and 12% fell by 1 grade band or more.

The success of this intervention has drawn attention to this module by other subject coordinators who are interested in supporting the development of academic writing skills. We are examining how we can offer the module to other programmes.

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