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Academic literacy and communicating assessment to students on L1 Science Modules

Project leader(s): 
Claire Kotecki and Prithvi Shrestha
Faculty: 
STEM and WELS
Status: 
Archived

This project aimed to understand assessment and how it is communicated to students in Level 1 Science with application across STEM subjects. The project specifically examined S104 Exploring science assessment, its language and assessment task types and surveyed students (pre- and post-module; n= 53 & 41) for their views on assessment and the use of key terms in assessment tasks. Additionally, a set of high-achieving and low-achieving students’ TMAs (n=48 assignments) were linguistically analysed to examine lexical density, reading complexity, academic vocabulary use and the use of metadiscourse. Based on these findings, a number of recommendations for improving assessment and academic literacy support have been made to module teams.

The findings showed that the module contains assignments that assess students’ gradual progression in the module by designing assignments which move from easy to a more sophisticated one. The assignment instructions on the length of the expected response text was vague because the instruction indicated no word limit in a number of cases but only suggested either ‘a sentence’ or vague word counts. This was reflected in the substantially varied length of the student written responses to the same TMA question. The assignment briefs employ a number of process words and key words in each question. Among them, it was found that two process words were challenging to students as revealed by both the assignment analysis and the student survey: discuss and reflect. The main reason appears to be that the module does not teach how to write a ‘discussion’ text and a reflection text in science. As these text types are difficult to write and require a sophisticated level of using language to communicate about scientific topics, it is not fair to expect Level 1 students to come prepared with this ability. It is not sufficient to simply explain to students what the word means. They need to see the process of writing a discussion and reflection and their examples.

The survey results indicated that most students found problem-solving, experimental report, long written answer questions, single answer or multiple choice questions and tasks involving maths or numeracy as the most useful assessment tasks. The students also indicated that that they found assignments marked by both their tutor and a computer useful. In the pre-module survey, the students demonstrated a varying level of their understanding of the process words frequently used in the TMAs. This could have serious implications for how they respond to the assignment questions.

The linguistic analysis of eight students’ assignments showed that their language proficiency level is sufficient for the module. However, their expertise in the use of academic and scientific language varied significantly which was reflected in their grades. It appears that those students who already had the ability to make appropriate choice of language to make meanings in science continued to excel while those with a lower ability in doing so were disadvantaged due to the lack of support for developing their scientific literacy during the study. This is something the new Level 1 modules such as S111 and S112 should consider in order to support struggling students. Research shows that carefully designed embedded academic literacy activities help students not only succeed in the module (Shrestha & Parry, 2019) but also enable them to transfer their academic literacy expertise to other modules as seen in business studies (Shrestha, 2017).

Related resources

Kotecki, C. and Shrestha, P. (2019) Academic literacy and communicating assessment to students on L1 Science Modules. eSTEeM Final Report (PDF)

Kotecki and Shrestha poster