Tuesday, 18 February 2014

#FutureEd Learning from my students

OK -this isn't empirical research and it isn't statistically significant, but I had an encounter today with four students which stopped me in my tracks and caused me to rethink my approach to rethinking assessment.

Assessment is a big theme at the moment  - it was the focus of the FutureEd mooc last week, its a matter of debate on the course I teach on, it's also the theme of an assignment my daughter is writing for her PGCE.

I have been really interested in Cathy Davidson's discussion of assessment in her book Now You See It and that in itself has been causing me to rethink a module I teach and how the assessment can be made more pertinent to real skills needed in the workplace and in life.

At the same time I had a worry that assessment methods were becoming a little unbalanced in our first year of the course with quite a strong leaning towards group work at the expense of individual assignments.

Group work is notoriously difficult to assess and often unpopular with students who may feel they are a) doing more than their fair share of work to make up for the loafers and b) missing out on good grades because of poor quality input from others.

Concerns about the quality of students' writing and referencing in years 2 and 3 also caused me to think about introducing more individual, essay-type assessment in the first year in order to try and improve these skills.

But the group that came to see me today, to discuss a first year group assignment I have set, really sold me the idea of group work - particularly for first year students. These four students have worked together in every module requiring a group project and have got to know one another well. One of their number had not studied the subject in college so she was benefiting from the knowledge of the others in getting to grips with the course. Another had come from a completely different education system in a different country so he was also learning from his fellow students - on the other hand, he had years of practical experience working in mental health so he was contributing that. A third student had recently completed an access to HE course so was confident with referencing and research skills and was teaching her friends!

All in all it's a combination that works beautifully and through their working together they have become friends, feel really engaged with the course and have grown in confidence. I realise that other students may be having different - less positive - experiences but if group work can help students engage and learn together, and if they can reap such enhanced benefits from working together across more than one module,  this assessment strategy may actually be the best one we have come up with yet!

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