Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to write an essay

Problem 1: Students write descriptive essays which do not demonstrate critical thinking.
Solution: Title as question.

Problem 2: Massive over reliance on essays as an assessment format in higher education.
Solution: ???

Henri D, Morrell L. and Scott G. Ask a clearer question, get a better answer. F1000Research 2015, 4: 901 doi: 10.12688/f1000research.7066.1
Many undergraduate students struggle to engage with higher order skills such as evaluation and synthesis in written assignments, either because they do not understand that these are the aim of written assessment or because these critical thinking skills require more effort than writing a descriptive essay. Here, we report that students who attended a freely available workshop, in which they were coached to pose a question in the title of their assignment and then use their essay to answer that question, obtained higher marks for their essay than those who did not attend. We demonstrate that this is not a result of latent academic ability amongst students who chose to attend our workshops and suggest this increase in marks was a result of greater engagement with ‘critical thinking’ skills, which are essential for upper 2:1 and 1st class grades. The tutoring method we used holds two particular advantages: First, we allow students to pick their own topics of interest, which increases ownership of learning, which is associated with motivation and engagement in ‘difficult’ tasks. Second, this method integrates the development of ‘inquisitiveness’ and critical thinking into subject specific learning, which is thought to be more productive than trying to develop these skills in isolation.

I'm not quite sure how peer review works on the F1000 education channel. I have been asked to peer review articles in the past and have done so, but I'm not sure how open the process is. So here's my open peer review of this paper.

This is an interesting and potentially valuable study of a method to improve the quality of student writing. The sample size is relatively small and the major weaknesses are pointed out by the authors in the Discussion:
"For the purpose of this study we assumed that students who posed a question in the title of their essay had attended the workshop and understood the underlying concepts of the workshop, and this has been used as the independent factor in our analysis. We acknowledge that this lack of certainty in the allocation of students to the did/did not attend category does need to be borne in mind when interpreting our results. Another possible confounding factor is that voluntary workshop attendance may be skewed towards individuals who are more engaged or motivated with the module; and these individuals are more likely to obtain higher grades because of this higher engagement with the module content"
To counteract these factors, the authors should cite an effect size to validate the p-values quoted in the results.

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