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Assessment and feedback in university teaching. Kieron Flanagan. Outline. The nature of university teaching Purposes of assessment Types of and routes for feedback Plagiarism. What is university teaching for?. We teach our students things (“ subject knowledge and understanding”)

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Assessment and feedback in university teaching

Assessment and feedback in university teaching

Kieron Flanagan


The nature of university teaching

Purposes of assessment

Types of and routes for feedback


What is university teaching for
What is university teaching for?

  • We teach our students things (“subject knowledge and understanding”)

  • However, in the course of learning those things they should also develop a range of skills

  • Students tend to forget about the latter

A university education should encourage students to build
A university education should encourage students to build…

  • Subject-specific skills (e.g. accounting conventions, techniques)

  • General (transferrable) skills

  • General critical thinking and analytical skills

General transferrable skills
General (transferrable) skills

  • Team-working

  • Time/task management

  • Active reading and active listening

  • Critical thinking

  • Document preparation

  • Communication skills (oral/written)

  • &c.

Critical thinking and analytical skills
Critical thinking and analytical skills

  • These are the skills necessary to analyse information, weigh up evidence and arguments, draw (own) conclusions and justify them

  • We shouldn’t let our students think that these are just obscure or useless scholarly skills

  • Typically these are the skills most employers are looking for from graduates

Critical thinking skills
Critical thinking skills…

  • Of course they are also the skills that will get them good marks…

  • What does critical thinking mean in practice?

Critical thinking
Critical thinking

  • Critical thinking means thinking about the positions taken by authors, about the validity of their evidence, the strengths of their arguments

  • This includes the student being critical (critically appraising and reflecting upon) their own stance

  • Clearly, it does not mean blindly criticising everything – it is an informed process

Critical thinking faqs
Critical thinking FAQs

  • Q: How can I be critical of academic experts or people in important positions? They know more than I do…

    • A: We are trying to develop critical skills…

      • They may be biased in some way

      • They may have ignored important evidence

      • They may have overdone their conclusions

  • Q: But isn’t it disrespectful to criticise your teachers?

    A: If a student disagrees with us but backs up their argument with evidence then we will always give them credit for it!

Un critical thinking is
Uncritical thinking is…

  • Accepting (and repeating) the arguments of authors - or lecturers/tutors - without question

  • Putting forward own personal views without reflecting critically upon them, or otherwise taking a position without explaining why

Evidence of un critical thinking
Evidence of uncritical thinking…

  • Stating in assessed work that something is ‘obvious’ or ‘clearly correct’ without providing an explanation

  • Regurgitating lecture notes in assessed work

  • Basing assessed work entirely on one or two readings (or on the results of a Google or Wikipedia search)

We expect our students to take responsibility for their own learning
We expect our students to take responsibility for their own learning

  • The style of learning that takes place at a university is very different from school or college. It is largely self-directed (i.e. most of the learning is meant to be done outside contact time).

  • Lectures are intended to guide this learning.

  • Seminars are supposed to help students discuss what they are learning, and to receive feedback.

  • We need to encourage students to develop an active learning style.

Active learning
Active learning? learning

  • Active listening in lectures (taking detailed notes, not relying on handouts)

  • Taking an active part in seminars, the most important part of their contact time: taking notes, contributing, and listening actively and respectfully to others

  • Making the time to do the necessary reading and preparation beforehand (this is part of the total study time)

  • Reading actively: with a pencil, taking notes, not using a highlighter, not using a PC to cut-and-paste.

  • Active reading can also be selectivereading – use of abstracts, tables of contents, indices, introductions, summaries etc to help find and focus on what is important to the task in hand

If they don t do these things
If they don’t do these things? learning

  • Seminar attendance is compulsory (poor attendance goes on their record and could potentially be reflected in the references we write for them)

  • More importantly, lack of preparation or participation and lack of active learning will mean they are wasting their (and your) time in lectures and seminars

  • …and that will lead them to FAIL….

How can students become more active learners
How can students become more active learners? learning

  • They need to understand their own attitudes to learning

  • They need to understand their own study and critical thinking skills (audit) and how they can be improved (guides, help)

  • They need to practice! Encourage them to take advantage of their strengths and work on their weaknesses

  • Encourage them to seek help and support (student guidance service, ELC, etc. etc.)

Purposes of assessment
Purposes of assessment? learning

  • The purpose of assessment is ultimately to demonstrate learning from the course (i.e. subject knowledge + skills)

  • Assessment can have both formative (to build confidence & improve performance) and summative elements

  • Some assessment is mainly formative (e.g. practice essays, presentations)

  • Some assessment is mainly summative (e.g. final exams)

  • Mostly it is some mixture of the two…

Some purposes of feedback
Some Purposes of Feedback learning



To reward good work

To account for the grade given

To help them understand the progress they are making in their programme

  • To encourage better work in the future

  • Subject knowledge and understanding

    • To correct errors of understanding (or of omission)

  • Skills

    • To identify strengths and weaknesses in skills

  • Some important considerations
    Some important considerations learning

    Validity – does assessment really measure the intended learning outcomes?

    Reliability – is assessment consistent from student to student, examiner to examiner? (Hence need for explicit learning outcomes, grading criteria, and for safeguards such as moderation)

    Feedback learning

    • Arguably, the UK system is historically biased towards summative assessment

    • Students often (& sometimes fairly) complain about alack of timely and useful formative “feedback”

    • However, it’s also crucial to address common student misconceptions about feedback…

    Feedback learning

    • Students tend to associate “feedback” with written comments on essays…

    • This can tend to be rather brief and generic, and can use negative or inaccessible language which doesn’t work well as formative feedback

    • But feedback comes via multiple routes and it is important to help the students to realise that

    Multiple routes for feedback
    Multiple routes for feedback learning

    • Informal advice and discussion during a lecture, seminar, workshop or lab. (For this, students need to participate!)

    • Online exercises and quizzes

    • Responses to your questions from a member of staff or tutor, including feedback provided via email, to a group via an online discussion forum or via FAQs

    • Specific course related feedback sessions

    • Written and/or verbal comments on assessed or non assessed coursework

    Multiple routes for feedback1
    Multiple routes for feedback learning

    • Written and/or verbal comments after a group or individual presentation

    • Generic feedback posted on Blackboard regarding overall assessment performance (common problems, etc)

    • Group and individual discussions/meetings with an Academic Advisor or with a Programme Director

    What should students expect
    What should students expect? learning

    • It is MBS policy that feedback should be…

    • Prompt

    • Individual

    • Constructive

    • Related to progression

    • Related to learning outcomes

    What should students expect from tutors
    What should students learningexpect from tutors?

    • Clarification and discussion of the lectures

    • The opportunity to discuss the themes of the course in seminars, with the tutor and with each other

    • Advice on prioritising their reading

    • Timely feedback on essay plans etc. where appropriate

    • Continuous informal feedback on their developing understanding of the subject (and on their developing skills) through seminar discussions, presentations &c and on demand

    Approaches to feedback
    Approaches to learningfeedback

    • The Open University recommends the ‘feedback sandwich’

      • start with the good things

      • move onto (constructive) criticism

      • end on a positive note for future improvement

    • Focus your feedback – be specific, relate feedback to learning outcomes and avoid unhelpful comments like “could do better”, “not a bad effort” &c.

    • Structured versus less structured approaches

    A few words about plagiarism
    A few words about plagiarism… learning

    • Despite warnings, lectures, etc. many of our students have a poor understanding of plagiarism

    • Experience suggests this is often related to a poor understanding of good academic practices (and why they are important)

    • Tutors have a crucial role in reinforcing positive messages here…

    A few words about plagiarism1
    A few words about plagiarism… learning

    • We should encourage our students to:

    • Develop their critical thinking/reading skills

    • Think about what resources are appropriate/reliable (information literacy)

    • Develop good note-taking practices

    • Develop good referencing, quotation, citation practices

    A few words about plagiarism2
    A few words about plagiarism… learning

    • Individual assessment requires that students demonstrate their own learning

    • They must do this by critically appraising evidence, sources and by constructing their own argument to answer the question

    • And not by assembling an essay from quotations or close paraphrases of others’ arguments and conclusions

    A few words about plagiarism3
    A few words about plagiarism… learning

    • Plagiarism does attract serious (life-changing) penalties and MBS students are caught and disciplined!

    • Tutors can play an important part in positively encouraging students to better understand the purposes of assessment, develop good practices - and avoid risky ones

    • Tutors can also look out for signs of personal problems, non-attendance etc. which are sometimes associated with plagiarism

    Thank you for your attention questions feedback kieron flanagan@mbs ac uk

    Thank you for your attention! learning

    Questions? Feedback?