Thursday, 22 February 2018

A short case study of an effective student learning activity

In 2004 Graham Gibbs and Clare Simpson published a seminal meta-analysis titled ‘Conditions under which assessment supports student learning’. The third condition on their list of ten is that assessments should help students 'engage in productive and appropriate learning activity'.

Most art history students are assessed by essay more than anything else, but experience - as well as a chorus of studies - shows that asking students to write essays in response to questions set by a teacher isn't always a good way to engage them productively and appropriately. One alternative is to ask students to devise their own essay questions but this is a notoriously risky approach and depends on having a small number of students in the first place. Setting a different kind of task altogether - a podcast, for example - can require a great deal of time spent in devising the task, writing new marking criteria, and evaluating it once it’s done.

Thankfully, I've come across one approach that is so simple in its conception that it must be worth trying. It comes from Alison Cook-Sather, Peter Felten and Catherine Bovill’s book Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching, and here it is, quoted almost in its entirety:

‘Peter Kruschwitz, a classics professor at Reading University, collaborates with students to develop essay questions. Kruschwitz provides his students with six to eight key words relating to the course they are studying and asks them to use the words to construct their own essay question. He checks the questions students have written to ensure that the scope of each question is not too narrow or too broad, and he suggests amendments, where necessary, before approving the questions for use. By writing their own questions, students have to consider carefully what they are particularly interested in and the impact of the kinds of questions asked up on the angle and focus of the essay that can result. Students are essentially able to shape both the style of essay they choose to write and the particular topic that mosts interests them while still addressing central course themes. Kruschwitz still controls the grading, but students report finding the essays ‘relevant’, and they demonstrate a higher level of involvement in their learning […] Kruschwitz himself reports that involving the students in designing their own essay questions has enhanced the quality of nearly all student essays (and their associated grades) and also has reduced the incidence of plagiarism’. (Alison Cook-Sather, Peter Felten and Catherine Bovill, Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A guide for faculty, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014, p.34).

If anyone tries this, please let me know how it works out!

Gibbs and Simpson’s very readable article is available here:

Details about Cook-Sather et al's book can be found here: 

Peter Kruschwitz's profile is here:

No comments:

Post a Comment