In 2003, Richard Winter wrote a piece for the Guardian in which he listed some problems than can occur when essays are the primary tool used to assess what, and how much, students have learned. Winter claimed that the essays students write often show evidence only of surface learning, rather than deep learning, and that the use of essays for assessment was partly to blame for this. Personally speaking, I really like the essay. I find it stimulating, challenging, and an opportunity to examine and learn in great detail and depth. However, regardless of how much one might like the essay, sometimes it could be useful to provide students with a friendly way in to academic writing, especially for first-year undergraduates or those returning to education after a break, and this is where patchwork text assessment comes in.
The basic idea is that rather than choosing one or two major points of assessment, the students submit multiple short pieces of writing on a regular basis (perhaps in the form of an academic blog or journal) which are then ‘stitched together’ with a final summary, evaluation or reflective commentary. The learning outcomes remain the same, the word count is not altered, and the final submission deadline stays as it is: the difference is that the writing is built up over a longer period of time, in which the students complete many short, directed writing tasks. The writing tasks could be similar or varied, and could be shared for peer-review or kept private. Tutors could review the writing tasks at one or two specific intervals in order to provide formative feedback, or could simply mark everything at the end of the process.
Dr. Craig Staff (Senior Lecturer in Fine Art) and Rob Farmer (Learning Designer) are currently conducting research into patchwork text assessment with students in the School of The Arts. The purpose of the research is to study the attitudes of students to this type of assessment, to look at the quality of the writing they produce, and to determine the staff workload implications when assessing the patchwork texts. The project is due to run over three academic years (2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16), and will involve around 300 students from levels four to six. Interim findings from the students who undertook the patchwork assessments in 2013/14 clearly showed that it would be worthwhile continuing with the project.
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