Posted by: Ruth Moeller, Lecturer in Education and Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.
Several years ago, I returned to study to do a post graduate course in Organisational Behaviour. I remember the first assessment clearly, we had to write an analysis of a group situation, I think it was about 1500 words. I remember the anxiety, I had no idea of what I was doing. I had done the reading, attended the classes, consulted fellow students but in writing my analysis I made the best go of it I could but really had no idea of what was required.
I missed the class when the work was returned, so had to catch up with the lecturer at another time – I still remember the nervousness and trepidation I felt in waiting for my paper, and I did ask her, ‘Just tell me if I passed or if I have to do it again.’ When I got the paper back I got an HD, I still don’t know how, and I suspect that the lecturer regretted the mark, when she realised that I didn’t really know what I was doing!
The purpose of this anecdote was not to tell you I got an HD or to share my neuroses, but rather to make the point that when assessing and grading students they need to know what is expected and to what standard. Or to put it another way, ‘What does “good” look like?’
This is particularly important for students transitioning: from school to tertiary studies, from vocational to higher education or from one year level to the next. Expectations can be different, so we shouldn’t assume that students will understand what is required of them.
To help, consider these three questions:
What criteria are you using? Are you assessing a product, application of theory, diverse reading, critical analysis, spelling and grammar, team work? Make this clear to the students and then they can aim to demonstrate what they can (or can’t) do, rather than try to guess what you want.
What does ‘good’ look like? You may have assessment criteria but when you are grading, could you explain to a student the difference between a Credit and a Distinction? “It’s just the vibe of the thing…” (Dennis Denuto in The Castle) isn’t a satisfactory explanation. This is often highlighted when a student questions their grade and asks what was missing. What did they need to do to get a higher grade? Rubrics can help here.
Can you explain what students have to produce? Even better, are there examples they can look at? Students like to see what is required. You think you have clearly articulated the requirements but nothing beats a physical example. I get my post grad students to write wiki posts, and until I provided sample posts, I was always fielding questions about what was wanted, even though I thought it was clearly explained in the course guide.
It is Week 2 for Higher Education and Week 5 for Vocational Education, so it’s not too late to review your assessment tasks and see if there are ways to make them student-friendly rather than ‘guess what I want’ tasks.
Resources that can help: