As part of the recent S.H.E.D. roadshow, we invited teaching staff to share their successful practice. The example below could be a useful approach for anyone looking to encourage their students to research and understand their subject, and to share that understanding with their peers.
In a third year module on Biodiversity and Conservation, Professor Jeff Ollerton asks his students to engage with a range of scientific writing published around the subject. This includes articles from peer-reviewed journals, UK Parliamentary briefings, scientific journalism, and more. In this part of the module, students are initially provided with recommended articles, and asked to read them critically, attending to the aims, message and methods, and considering whether the conclusions are justified. They then discuss their views in class, where their contributions are assessed using a rubric that is made available to all students in advance. The students are then asked to identify a paper of their choice and deliver a 5 minute verbal presentation to the class. The grade for this is combined with the contribution grade to make up 30% of the total module grade (other parts of the module are assessed using a report and a group debate).
These tasks not only help to ensure that students engage with research and develop their understanding, but they also build confidence and presentation skills. The attached Assessment Brief gives more detail about the assessment structure.

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3 Responses to Supporting understanding and engagement through continuous assessment

  1. Alasdair Gordon-Finlayson says:

    I use a continuous assessment task in one of my modules, a first-year research methods module, and ran into an unexpected problem that might affect others thinking of continuous assessment tasks…

    I have a series of eight online, open-book, 20-item multiple-choice tests during the year that students have a week to complete. Half of each test draws randomly from a pool of questions from current material, half of each test samples questions from past question pools so that material is constantly revised. The combined test grades contribute 10% of the final module mark – each test shouldn’t take long to do, and they’re honestly not that difficult (though some of the grades are… disappointing!). In order to reduce pressure on any individual tests, and to ensure that students don’t have to apply for mit circs if they miss one or two, the grade is actually calculated from the mean of their top six test marks. Obviously there’s an alternative if more than two tests are missed or the calculated test grade is an F+ or lower.

    It’s this word “calculated” that is the issue, though – when asked to explain my grades in light of a mit circs claim, I was sent an email that included this gem:

    Tutors shouldn’t really be doing maths to give a student a grade.

    Now this doesn’t reference any academic regs and I can’t find anything to support this. Furthermore, an informal chat with one of the Records team confirmed that there was no way to do the “best 6 of 8” within the student records system. And yes, I spotted the irony of demanding “no maths” on the grades of a stats module… fairly sure I can handle addition and division… 🙂

    I developed an excel spreadsheet with some nifty sorts, error catches & vlookups to do the grade calculations (at 200+ students each year, doing this by hand wasn’t an option!), and am entirely confident in my “maths”… but thought perhaps I’d just put my £0.05 in to warn of possible issues with submitting “calculated” grades.

    • Rachel Maxwell says:

      Thanks for your comments on this post Alasdair. You have raised a very interesting point and one which is very much a ‘hot potato’ for us over in ILT. We recognise that introducing different learning and teaching approaches like the one you mention, but also team-based learning in particular, poses challenges to the existing structures and regulations. Consequently, I am in the process of looking at ways to update the regulations and make them more fit for purposes in the light of the many new and innovative forms of assessment that staff are seeking to implement. I have met with Kathryn Kendon this week and so it is already on her agenda too and we will be working together to introduce something more appropriate ideally in time for the next academic session.

  2. Irene Fenswick says:

    I think that continuous assessment motivates learners to study during the academic year. Thank you for your article.