Challenging my own practice

The JISC ‘From challenge to change’ workshop yesterday (see previous post) started with an invitation to record aspects of assessment and feedback provision in our own context that we felt to be strengths or remained a challenge.

I was there as the case study speaker, outlining the challenges of my situation (huge student numbers, distance, open-ness) and then going on to describe what we have done to address the challenges. It’s all positive stuff – we have provided thousands of students with instantaneous feedback, we have helped them to pace their study, we have freed up staff time to do better things, we have marked consistently and reliably. Students and tutors like our questions and we have even saved the University money.

So why is it that, when asked to identify the strengths and the challenges, I still see more challenges than strengths. We are scaffolding learning but are we constraining it too much? We are using short-answer free-text questions because we want to ‘go beyond’ multiple choice computer-marked questions, but are we really causing students to think any more than they would when confronted by a good multiple-choice question? We are using ‘low-stakes summative’ iCMA questions to encourage students to engage more deeply with the process (and we know that, at a certain level, this works) but are they really learning? I have similar anxieties about our tutor-marked assignments – Are we giving just too much feedback? Are we overwhelming our students? Are we smothering them? Most fundamentally, do we have a shared understanding with our students (and our part-time tutors) about what assessment is for and what it is about?  If I’d like this blog to achieve one thing it would be to challenge all of us to reflect more and to evaluate more. Then perhaps we’ll get some answers.

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