What does supporting involve?
This component looks specifically at supporting students in the period between setting and submission of assignments ie, while they are in the process of completing an assignment.
It is separate from the more general support needed for the business processes and technologies throughout the lifecycle, although it does have a relationship with the broader digital literacies agenda for both staff and students.
What are we trying to achieve?
This stage is about helping each student do their best work for each assignment. However the real purpose is developing students' assessment literacy so that they understand what is involved in the process of making academic judgements.
Ultimately we are trying to turn students into independent and self-regulated learners who are able to monitor and evaluate their own learning. Assessment preparation should ensure appropriate scaffolding to facilitate this.
How might we use technology at the supporting stage of the lifecycle and what are the benefits?
The information sources we suggest you create at earlier stages of the lifecycle are invaluable in supporting students with consistent information. Technology can provide formative development opportunities and include online quizzes and testing. Electronic voting systems (also known as personal response systems or clickers) can test understanding of a topic or gather feedback from students during teaching sessions.
Technology can provide formative feedback on draft assignments - this may be in the form of tutor feedback, peer feedback or self-development such as the use of academic integrity checking tools.
This can provide the following benefits:
- Consistency of information sources (see the specifying and setting stages) helping staff to provide consistent information in direct contact with students
- A digital overview of the curriculum helps students understand their individual learning pathway, particularly how one assignment relates to others
- Formative opportunities such as online quizzes and testing can help consolidate learning
- Opportunities for self and peer reflection can help with deeper learning.
What are the common problems?
Students may not always understand what is required of them (see the 'setting' stage of the lifecycle). This problem can be exacerbated when staff use a range of academic terms for the same thing and sometimes even the same words for different things eg, rubric/marking schema/marks sheet/cover sheet etc.
Students may focus too much on the assignment in hand rather than understanding where this piece of learning fits into the overall learning outcomes for their course or programme of study. This results in researching the subject in a narrow way where they think they will gain the most marks.
Students may view each assignment as a one-off to be forgotten once it is completed. This may partly be a problem of mindset and not understanding how the different elements of the course hang together. It can also be due to a curriculum that doesn't offer sufficient opportunities for formative development.
Another problem is a curriculum that doesn't provide sufficient time for feedback on formative activities to influence student work on their final submission, or for feedback on one summative assignment to influence the next.
Providing formative opportunities can sometimes add further complications to the set up steps for EMA information systems eg, the system needs to distinguish between draft submissions that are for feedback only and the final submission for marking. Similarly, submissions should not be flagged as having unoriginal content simply because a draft of the same piece of work has previously been submitted.
Some students may have particular special needs eg, dyslexia or other disability or may not have English as their first language. You should think about making curriculum and assessment practice as inclusive as possible from the design stage eg, using technologies such as lecture capture to aid student revision and offering alternative formats for assignments wherever possible. You may however still need to provide special services for certain types of learner.
A personal tutoring system is a means of ensuring that a student's long term development needs are catered for. Often the personal tutor is removed from the marking process so features such as anonymity can be preserved. Effective personal tutoring does however require a means of allowing the personal tutor to see a full view of feedback. Currently this is problematic in many systems.
What resources can help?
- The University of Derby's fit to submit? checklist helps students avoid common mistakes in their coursework .
- Oxford Brookes University's guide provides advice for students on how to do better on their assignments (pdf)
- The University of Hertfordshire's at a glance guide shows how electronic voting systems (EVS) in different disciplines helped support its assessment for learning principles
- Our case study from Ayrshire College outlines how a lecturer designed a multi-media comic book to help creative arts students engage better with formative assessment tasks
- Our case study from Perth College shows how smartphones and QR codes engaged hairdressing and beauty therapy students with formative assessment tasks supporting enquiry based learning, self directed learning, group work and peer evaluation.
Case study: marking exercise - University of Winchester
An easy and effective way of orienting students to allocate effort in an appropriately focused way, in relation to assessment demands, is a classroom exercise in which students mark three or four good, bad and indifferent assignments from students from the previous year (with their permission, and made anonymous).
Students should read and allocate a mark to each example without discussion, then discuss their marks and reasons for allocating these with two or three other students who have marked the same assignments.
The tutor then reveals the marks the assignments actually received, and why, in relation to the criteria and standards for the course. Finally, provide two more assignment examples for the students to mark, with their now enhanced understanding of the criteria.
Students undertaking such exercises have gained one grade higher for their course than they have would otherwise for the investment of about 90 minutes in the marking exercise. This advantage occurs in a subsequent course. It is hard to imagine a more cost-effective intervention.