Friday, August 14, 2015

Assessment and feedback - what do students want?

Ray os sunshine We have moved to online marking (mostly via Turnitin) substantively over the last 18 months. In reality, it's probably the only way we could cope with numbers of students we have. But what do students think of this change? We don't know (because we haven't asked them, although they have not complained). Has this change helped with the NSS feedback question? (No.) This new paper addresses some of these questions and comes up with some interesting findings.

Individual students like or dislike online marking - individual preferences are negatively correlated. That means that as a population, students are broadly neutral, which has been our experience.

On the question of feedback, the findings are more interesting. Students who like online marking tend to view it as a gateway to staff contact - the start of a conversation. This is problematic because online assessment is primarily seen by staff as a file and forget exercise. So even with the students who are pro-online marking, we are not meeting their expectations. But most importantly of all - STUDENTS HATE NEGATIVE FEEDBACK ... which explains the NSS results.
"We suggest that markers should consider developing a small bank of brief but positive comments (for example “nicely written” “good argument” ) that can be readily added to the assignment in the place of the ticks that might have been given on a traditionally submitted assignment. Appropriate positive comments specific to particular sections of the assignment could then easily be added to a pdf (through annotation), word document (in a comment box), or included in the suite of QuickMarks used in submission services such as Turnitin. These recommendations notwithstanding, we also advocate that university budget centres acknowledge that although online marking has many benefits, relative to offline marking, more time will be needed by markers if students are to receive appropriate positive feedback on their work, and for the benefits of online assignments to be fully realised."

Assignments 2.0: The Role of Social Presence and Computer Attitudes in Student Preferences for Online versus Offline Marking. The Internet and Higher Education, 8 August 2015. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2015.08.002
This study provided the first empirical and direct comparison of preferences for online versus offline assignment marking in higher education. University students (N= 140) reported their attitudes towards assignment marking and feedback both online and offline, perceptions of social presence in each modality, and attitudes towards computers. The students also ranked their preferences for receiving feedback in terms of three binary characteristics: modality (online or offline), valence (positive or negative), and scope of feedback (general or specific). Although attitudes towards online and offline marking did not significantly differ, positive attitudes toward one modality were strongly correlated with negative attitudes toward the other modality. Greater perceptions of social presence within a modality were associated with more positive attitudes towards that modality. Binary characteristics were roughly equally weighted. Findings suggest that the online feedback modality will most effectively maximise student engagement if online assignment marking and feedback tools facilitate perceptions of social presence.

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