Thursday, October 09, 2008

Make it a challenge

BS1010 The first assessed exercise on our undergraduate PLE module is when students to receive a set of instructions as an email attachment, create and manipulate an image and send it back as an attachment. The image consists of an annotated screenshot of the Google search results on their own name.

Not particularly challenging, and it's not meant to be, it's mainly a handshaking exercise to make sure registration on the VLE has been completed and communications channels are open. We ask them to send some feedback on the exercise in the body of their email submission:
  • What I liked about this assessment was...
  • What I didn't like about this assessment was...
  • This assessment could be improved by...
Almost universally, they said the assessment could be improved by making it harder, not a statement one normally associates with students. But they're keen - it's only the second week of their university career, and the disillusionment hasn't set in yet. However, what I saw as a clever piece of personalization (the Google name search), they perceive as depersonalized.

Should we abandon an email assessment altogether, assume universality, and replace this exercise with a more challenging handshake? Although 95% of the students found the exercise trivial, 5% had difficulty and I suspect more than that learned something. Several also commented that this, their first assessment in higher education, was confidence building. With some regret, I feel that this exercise has to stay, but be more focused on what they perceive HE is all about. So here's what I'm planning for next year, and I'd welcome your input.

Students will receive an email with an attachment instructing them to:
  • Write a reflective essay (hey, essay's are what HE is all about, right?) entitled: "How should the University of Leicester use learning technologies in science degrees?"
  • Maximum of 400 words.
  • Submit the essay as an email attachment.
  • All submissions will be checked for plagiarism by Turnitin
  • Marks will be awarded as follows:
    • Receipt of an email with an appropriate subject line containing your essay as an attachment: 10%
    • Range of technologies discussed: 30%
    • Personal experiences and opinions: 30%
    • Quality of writing (including clarity of expression, spelling, grammar, etc): 30%
The intention is to match student expectations of what it's like to be all grown up and at university while sneaking the email handshake in under the radar. The downside is the workload involved in "marking" 200 essays (which could be a dealbreaker). And?