Teaching critique and analysis
Assessment and teaching are bound up together in Bernadette's approach. Students submit an essay (for 45%) and a 750 word reflective learning journal (for 5%) as well as sitting a two hour multiple choice examination (50%). Her students are actively prepared for their assessment in class in every week of the semester. In the first 6 weeks of the semester, she helps students shape an appropriately academic essay by working with them on the basic shape they need to use for their essay – ie, a paragraph of introduction, paragraphs of evidence for the body of the essay and one paragraph of conclusion. In class, all activities have three aims: building a sense of belonging and getting students talking; imbuing students with academic skills such as essay writing; and teaching the course content – ie, organisational behaviour. In weeks 7-8 of the semester the classes are focussed on essay-writing skills and do not include new theory content. From week 9 onwards, the classes resume teaching traditional content but are also focussed on helping students to prepare for taking the exam, including discussions of strategies for dealing with multiple choice tests, and a mock test every week.
Learning goals and objectives
The learning goals for the essay are for students to develop 1) expertise in relation to Organisational Behaviour as a discipline and 2) higher order thinking skills of analysis and critique. Bernadette acknowledges to the students that good academic thinking skills are acquired over an entire degree and not only in the first semester of study at university. She encourages students to use the essay component of this course to begin the process of mastering these skills. The exam generally requires students to demonstrate less demanding recall thinking skills (whereby students recall OB facts and definitions), and application skills (whereby students must apply OB theory to short scenarios).
This large, core course (Organisational Behaviour, MGT 1000) is aimed at students in the first semester of their first year. There are usually about 550 students on this course, 300 of whom are external. They are a very diverse cohort, in term of age, previous education, language skills and the professions they wish to join.
The Organisational Behaviour content learning objectives are explicitly stated and tested through the essay and exam process and are explicitly taught through Breeze slides and face-to-face sessions. Teaching processes vary between the Breeze slides and the face-to-face sessions.
The Breeze lectures are aimed at the ESOL and external students, who may be struggling with course content and want a slow and clear presentation of the material in as direct a manner as possible. The face to face lectorials (combined lecture and tutorial) tend to be faster paced and include more activities and interaction. ESOL internal students find the Breeze presentations a good way to supplement to the faster and more demanding experience of being in a class. The weekly lectorials prior to the essay assignment being due include writing activities that assist students to prepare for their essay. Students are provided with model answers for these exercises and use peer and self assessment with the model answers to measure their performance.
Bernadette has cut the assignments down to just one assignment, to make the task of providing good feedback more manageable. She tries to use local markers to minimise postage times. There are currently about 13-14 markers, some of whom, however, do take longer than the required two weeks turnaround time for marking. She is currently looking at ways to cut down the number of markers and streamline the process whilst still providing good feedback for students.
A member of staff from the library comes in to do a guest lecture to help students get to grips with how to research for their essay. Bernadette says that Ilona Eberle, the previous faculty librarian, has been very helpful. Markers are allocated 40 minutes per 1500-2000 word essay, so detailed feedback is expected for each assignment.
The final exam is a multiple choice exam. There is now a database of several hundred multiple choice questions which can be used to create each semester's exam. Every semester or so, 10-20 more questions are added – this cuts down on the time it takes to write any specific examination and has made the workload associated with developing a 50 item multiple choice exam each semester much more manageable.
The questions on the database are moderated before being added, and checked for clarity, inclusiveness and alignment with the stated learning goals. Bernadette sends out marking guidelines and a sample essay which each marker blind-marks. A markers' meeting is held at which Bernadette and the markers go through the essay, highlighting the marking processes and the ‘how and why' of awarding grades and providing feedback. Bernadette moderates a sample of marked essays, and checks the average marks and the range of marks from each marker.
Bernadette has changed her teaching approach to make it more consistent with the university's adoption of the single hurdle approach to assessment. In a single hurdle model of assessment students can fail the course only when they achieve an aggregate grade of less than 50%. Previously students could fail the course by failing individual assessment items within the course. She no longer treats the course as a ‘funnel' designed to halt the progress of students with marginal academic skills. The course now acts as a kind of ‘springboard' for students, into a longer term developmental process of academic skill acquisition. The emphasis is on actively building students' base skills through scaffolding in that first critical semester. Statistics show that her new approach is working, with greater retention of students and fewer fails among the lower o.p. students.
Problems and advice for others
Bernadette says that with a big course such as this, it's important to set boundaries with students about when you will be available, and to encourage them to have a specific question regarding the course before they contact you. This ensures that students have engaged with the material before asking for assistance. She says it's also important to play to your strengths as a teacher – if you are particularly skilled in one area or approach, you should emphasise that in your course.