Cassandra has implemented an assessment scheme designed to teach students information literacy and academic writing, how to use resources, and how to reference to appropriate academic standards.
Students have two assignments for this course. The first piece is 700 words and involves reading a number of journal articles, extracting information from them and constructing a written report. The articles are on topics relevant to the program and current events, such as global warming, and the key interests or concerns of three key groups around which the structure of this course is based – ie, business, government and society. This first assignment is due in week 4 and is weighted at 20%.
The second assessment piece (40%) is due in week 12 and has five parts which students work towards from week 5 onwards. They are given an essay topic to work on, and the five stages of the assessment are:
(i) in week 5, students produce 150-200 words in a guided analysis of the question, eg, outlining the key words/ topics, identifying limiting words such as a time period or country, etc.
(ii) In weeks 6-7, students pick five peer-reviewed articles and produce a short paragraph on each one, identifying the main argument, then write a brief discussion of whether it is convincing, and how it relates to the other articles. (This stage involves using databases to find the articles, and Cassandra has developed a presentation using Camtasia to help with this).
(iii) In week 8, students are required to make a plan of their essay, and in particular the argument they will make using a concept map. This is designed to help students avoid producing purely descriptive work. Cassandra provides a template to help map the argument, key points, sub-arguments, evidence and examples. This helps students to learn how to build an academic argument.
(iv) At the end of week 9, students are required to think about what the markers are looking for. They are given annotated examples of a pass essay and a high distinction essay, along with the marking criteria. Then they are required to mark a separate essay against specific criteria and according to the course marking guide. Students then produce a reflective piece of 200 words about this process.
(v) The final stage is the essay itself which is 1200-1400 words, addressing a narrow and specific area related to the topic of assignment 1 - to encourage deep thinking rather than surface learning - such as the key issues for the course stakeholders (government, business and society) in a particular country with regard to renewable energy as a response to global warming. Students also sit an exam (40%).
Learning goals and objectives
This assessment scheme is designed to show students that not all information is created equal, and to improve information literacy generally, as well as developing early critical thinking skills and skills of academic writing, research and professional communication.
This scheme is for students taking POL1000, usually in their first or second semester at university. There are about 500 students per year, about 350 of these external. The scheme is designed to be inclusive by helping all students understand what is required from them at university level and providing a method of transitioning to this level.
The introductory book sets out expectations of students as well as what they can expect from the course and from Cassandra. The assessment scheme and assignment guidelines are outlined as clearly as possible and the students discuss the different stages in tutorials and on the StudyDesk/Moodle throughout the semester. Cassandra also makes use of assignment templates with instructions, marking criteria, Breeze and PowerPoint presentations, and Study Desk/Moodle. She also sends weekly remailers to let students know where they should be up to at any given point, and outlining potential pitfalls of which they need to be aware.
Effective feedback is aided by detailed marking sheets which lay out specific criteria and what each criteria looks like at different grade levels, with criteria organised in order of importance. A marker can give specific, precise and effective feedback using only this. Timeliness can be an issue for external students (given postal times), and Cassandra is currently considering a move to electronic peer review for the first two parts of the second assignment.
There are two external markers who help out with this course. Cassandra is the course examiner for four politics courses, offered across three semesters a year. She's responsible for all grades, all ‘tidying-up' of marks or other course issues, and all moderation. Workloads for students are within the 10 hours a week as outlined by the university, but it is still a bit higher than some other courses in the faculty. However, some engineering students who have taken the course have found the workload to be low. In order to ease her own workload, Cassandra put a lot of thought into the development of this course and the assessment scheme in particular, scaffolding the course and anticipating questions, or problems faced by, students.
Cassandra talks about the assignments with a new marker prior to the first round of marking and they go through some samples together. In a new marker's first semester she moderates all first round assignments and talks to the marker about the feedback and marking levels. She gives all markers a copy of the course marking guide (which is also available to students), which they all discuss. Then, once marking is completed, she checks the range of marks and moderates where necessary. She routinely double marks all fails and HDs.
Instances of plagiarism and academic misconduct have reduced dramatically since Cassandra re-designed the assessment scheme for this course. There are more students achieving high grades and fewer students failing. Cassandra is happy that grades are a fair and accurate reflection of student abilities and efforts in the course.
Problems and advice for others
Cassandra says she has benefited from teaching the same subject with a similar cohort of students for some time, so she's had time to recognise the problems they face, what they need and how to do it. She says anyone considering a similar scheme or significant curriculum change should seek advice from a similarly experienced person and other support staff (ie. the LTSU), because there are a lot of issues to consider and planning to do to get the most out of the work you put it and to meet the needs of students in their learning.
Cassandra would like to see better mechanisms for communication across programmes to identify graduate attributes and what skills are being developed in individual courses, as she says a whole-of-programme approach would be beneficial for staff and students.