What is marking for?

Alongside novel challenges in the delivery and assessment of higher education, the current health crisis is causing some older issue in pedagogy to bubble back to the surface. One of these is the tension between between marking and feedback.

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Most academics, I suspect, have had the demoralising experience of finding boxes of carefully annotated work sitting uncollected in the administration office long after any interested parties will have picked up their work. Even with the switch of many assignments online (over several years, not just this week) you can see that the feedback feature hasn’t even been opened by many students in a given cohort (and you cannot tell the extent to which those who have clicked on it actually engaged with the comments).

I have been reminded of this by the impact of COVID-19 on existing plans. My first year students have recently written an essay under exam conditions. This is their first taste of an assessment format they will encounter much more frequently over the next couple of years. Yes, I know this is anachronistic, and yes we have made significant strides towards diversification of assessment, but it remains the fact that at present essay-writing in a time-limited setting remains a skill they will need to develop. My belief in the importance of this task as part of the student’s training was a significant factor in my heavy-hearted decision not to participate in the recent strike (but that is conversation for a different day). Continue reading

New…not New

QAA4I discovered relatively recently that a fourth edition of the QAA’s Subject Benchmark Statement for Biosciences was released in October 2019. Professionally I owe a lot to the existence of the QAA Benchmark statements. It was the first version, published in 2002, that placed strong emphasis on all graduates from Bioscience programmes having an awareness of the societal and ethical implications of developments within their discipline. This led the Subject Centre of the Learning and Teaching Support Network (as it then was; halcyon days) to set up the Special Interest Group in Teaching Ethics to Bioscience Students. Three of us applied for the advertised role to head up the SIG. The folks at the Subject Centre had the prescience to suggest we shared the role, and so was born  fruitful collaborations that have outlived the LTSN and even the HEA into which it was subsequently folded.

Continue reading

Can students be mistaken about the efficacy of teaching?

At the November meeting of our Bioscience Pedagogic Research group I led a discussion of the recent paper “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom“. The study, published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by Louis Deslauriers and was conducted on Physical Sciences programs at Harvard University.

Slides from my summary of the paper can be seen here

The principal take-home message from the study was that students learned more from active teaching sessions, despite feeling that they had gained more from passive lectures. It was a “cross-over study” (all participants experienced both teaching methods, but on different topics) and all had the same hand-outs and slides, in either the ‘active’ or the ‘passive’ sessions. As the authors point out “The crucial difference between the two groups was whether students were told directly how to solve each problem or were asked to try to solve the problems themselves in small groups before being given the solution” (p19252). Continue reading

Does attendance at lectures matter? An accidental case study

There is a lot of discussion in the University sector at the moment about student engagement and attendance at lectures. I know that several institutions (including my own) have ongoing pedagogic projects trying to ascertain why there has been a decline in the number of people turning up for face-to-face teaching sessions.

I was faced in March with the dispiriting spectacle of turning up to give one of my second year lectures and finding the room considerably under-populated. The attendance monitoring system suggests that there were 66 out of 185 students present, so that would be about 36%, so a smidge over a third (and this is before we get into the rising phenomenon of “swipe-n-go” students who log their attendance… then don’t!). Yes it was the last lecture in the entire module, yes there were probably looming deadlines in other modules, but part of my frustration at the level of absenteeism was borne out of the fact that I knew that my 15 mark Short Answer Question for the summer exam was based on the content of this session. I was therefore intrigued to see how the students would get on – would there be reams of blank pages (the outcome that leaves academics with mixed feelings – disappointment at missed learning, offset by a guilty acknowledgement that their marking burden is reduced)? Continue reading

Why I take exception to “Exceptional”

Emerging from our University library a few days ago I was struck by the sunshine glinting off a vinyl banner located near the main entrance. In keeping with many institutions, our campus and nearby roads, are home to many such signs used as opportunities to convey motivational messages to current students or to celebrate past successes for the benefit, primarily, of applicants we are hoping to persuade to make us firm choice for their education from the start of the next academic year.

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The observant will note: (a) this was not taken on the sunny day mentioned in the text and (b) my thumb is intentionally obscuring the name of the student quoted

As I looked more closely, I registered the phrasing on the banner – “The teaching is exceptional”, it declared, attributing the quote (by first name only) to a recent graduate. I recognised the name, she is a studious Asian woman, who had completed one of our bioscience programmes a year or two ago. Continue reading

Where’s the flippin’ flipping?

There’s a lot of discussion at the moment around the notion of “flipped teaching” or the “flipped classroom”. The common thread is the requirement (or opportunity) for students to do some kind of course-related work on their own, away from the classroom setting.

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However, there’s a problem. Some people may think I’m being picky, but I believe that sloppy usage of the phrase “flipped teaching” is significantly muddying the waters. Specifically, I worry that the notions of flipped teaching and “lecture capture” are being conflated, to the detriment of careful examination of both.

In recent days I’ve had cause to read two different articles purporting to be about flipped teaching. In both cases, the work described a comparison of attendance at a live lecture versus watching a recording of the lecture. These are investigations of the potential impact of lecture capture, but they are NOT flipped teaching. Flipping the classroom requires that there is still some face-to-face classroom task. Advocates for this approach, of which I am one, would argue that the point of moving some of the activities out of the face-to-face session is to require (or at least encourage) students to have engaged in some preparatory work that makes the subsequent contact time richer and (probably) more interactive than a traditional lecture would have been. But there has still got to be some real world encounter between an academic and their students.

Now there is clearly overlap between lecture capture technology and flipped teaching. Tools such as Panopto can be efficient ways to prepare short videos to be watched before the face-to-face session. But not all flipped classroom preparation is necessarily video based (it might, for example, involve reading something instead). Equally, giving students the opportunity to watch a recording of a lecture they missed is a valuable catch-up tool, but this is not flipped teaching per se.

 

What characterises “quality” in ethics education?

I recently read Ercan Avci‘s 2017 paper Learning from experiences to determine quality in ethics education (International Journal of Ethics Education 2:3-16). Avci, from Duquesne University, conducted a literature review looking for shared characteristics in peer-reviewed, full text articles with “ethics education”, “ethics teaching” or “ethics learning” in the title and “ethics” or “ethics education” in the keywords during the period 2010-2015 (which the author describes as the “the last five years”, though it looks like six years to me). A total of 34 papers were examined, drawn from 11 academic disciplines and 10 countries (plus 3 international studies). As one might anticipate, the USA was the most represented geographical context, and healthcare (Nursing, Medicine, etc) was the discipline with the highest number of studies. I was a little surprised to see that none of the reports were from the UK.

As the author himself points out, this is a rather eclectic mix of settings. This might be spun either as an advantage (e.g. capturing diversity) or as a limitation (when it comes to drawing universal lessons). Notwithstanding these issues, Avci makes a number of important observations, some of which resonate with my own experience (e.g. see the Notes for the Tutor section, p16 onwards, in my contribution to the 2011 book Effective Learning in the Life Sciences).

AVCI

Taking a step back, there is an initial question before examining the quality of any ethics programme, namely is ethics being taught at all? It is apparent that many courses – even in Medicine, even in the States – do not include a formal ethics component. However, a broad range of subjects are now including some ethics in their teaching. Continue reading

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