Assessment & the Expanded text project: Current assessment practice 3 – Work based learning, Self and Peer Assessment, Skills-based Assessment

Assessment

Introduction

‘The diversity of material and approaches, as well as programme objectives which value choice and independence of mind, suggest that it is desirable for students of English to experience a variety of assessment forms.’ (CCUE/QAA: 1999).

Current Assessment Practice is a searchable index of assessment practices across the Higher Education English community. It provides examples of the assessment practices the draft subject benchmarking document suggests might be profitably used to achieve such diversity.

All the assessment practices included in Current Assessment Practice are used by English and Related Studies tutors in the Higher Education sector. Initially current assessment practices in the four departments of English making up the Assessment and the Expanded Text project were documented and analysed. Each member of staff was invited to describe an assessment design they currently used, and to reflect on any factors affecting its development and use. Tutors were also invited to comment on the impact the design had on their students. The survey produced forty six replies from tutors across the consortium, nine of which included the assessment of group work and presentation. We later extended our survey to all university departments whose assessment methods were cited as ‘good practice’ in the English subject review reports (HEFCE: 1994-5). As a result members of staff in a further seventeen departments provided details.

Work Based Learning

As well as using assessment to underline the value of key subject-based skills tutors are also creating units which offer students opportunities to use these subject based skills in their widest application. Several university departments of English now provide units where assessment is by report and writing for real clients. Embedding work based learning within academic study can help students to develop initiative and experience in professional practice. Equally it offers students the opportunity to sample a professional working environment, broadening the range of skills which students acquire.

  1. Writing a report on issues relating to librarianship
  2. Writing for real clients

1. Writing a report on issues relating to librarianship

The unit provides an introduction to librarianship and aims to introduce students to a subject specific career opportunity in the public sector, to develop initiative and experience in professional practice, to integrate students into a professional working environment and to develop student skills in collaborative work. By the end of the unit students are able to understand the range of activities involved in library and information work, demonstrate practical experience of working in an academic library service, understand career opportunities available in the library and information service and demonstrate an understanding of professional issues through the preparation of an assessed project.

Assessment design: an individual project in the style of a report (100 per cent)
Sheffield Hallam University level 2, 20 credits

The unit gives English studies students the opportunity to sample the type of work required for a professional qualification in librarianship. The assessment method requires them to undertake an exercise which makes demands that are appropriate for a vocationally orientated unit. The demands are therefore somewhat different from those of the conventional English essay or course assignment.

In consultation with the unit tutor, who is a senior library assistant, students select a topic for research and produce a written assignment in the form of a report. Possible topics for research include: library structures, library finance, information technology strategy, networked information resources, enquiry and reference work, subject work and user education, circulation and inter-library lending, acquisitions, cataloguing and classification, non-book media, production of learning material, copyright.


2. Writing for real clients

The unit aims to provide students with the opportunity to write for a real client and/or audience. It offers the experience of writing in a real professional context. Students expand the range of writing they experience on the degree and negotiate the work they undertake. By the end of the unit students are able to include their experience of work in a professional context on a curriculum vitae. They write with an increased understanding of audience and purpose, deal with work for professionals often outside the University, negotiate realistic learning packages and plan and meet realistic deadlines, explain their work to others and reflect constructively on the problems and solutions their work involved.

Assessment design: Portfolio of work-in-progress and drafts including learning diary (100 per cent). Students submit a folder of writing including the finished texts, drafts, and reflective learning diary.
Sheffield Hallam University level 2, 20 credits

A professional level of reflection is central to the content and assessment of the students’ folders. It is also becoming a key strand in more and more units, and in employment. It is however, not self – evident what should go in these diaries – particularly the level of disclosure and the style of record. In attempting to provide such advice the tutor commissioned the students for advice as part of their work. Besides the technical merit/professionalism standard of the ‘products’, students also have to demonstrate professional attributes such as team working, reliability, detachment when appropriate, and the willingness to learn, especially considering these are less than glamorous kinds of writing tasks. The assessment is done according to agreed and explicit criteria. Principally, students must show a clear awareness of audience and purpose, and the style and format of each piece must be considered and appropriate. Students this year agreed to produce the following:

  • accurate minutes of one of the sessions.
  • a commissioned re-writing of the formal constitution of a local Voluntary Sector organisation (Sheffield Multi-lingual Support and Translation Service).
  • a formal reader’s report on two draft documents the tutor is working on ( A Guide to Professional Writing, and Guidelines on Writing Reflective Learning Diaries).
  • a critical review of a book recommended on one of the other units, for their peers, to be market tested on their peers.

The unit is relatively new and because of its focus on real writing tasks for real ‘clients’ or audiences. The unit should be seen in the context of a university-wide commitment to the professional development of our students.

Self and Peer Assessment
1. Using self-assessment to improve student understanding of assessment criteria

This practice varies student learning by using self-assessment. The practice aims to make the department’s assessment criteria the direct subject of staff/student dialogue. Prior to the examination students completes a self-assessment of an essay. The self-assessment makes clear the relationship between the diagnostic and final assessment by highlighting the importance of breadth and depth of subject knowledge, including relevant contextual knowledge.

Assessment design: diagnostic essay (0 per cent), 2,000 word essay (50 per cent), two hour examination (50 per cent).
Sheffield Hallam University, level one, twenty credits
Unit title: Introduction to prose fiction

The course where this assessment design is practised aims to introduce students to the study of prose fiction using texts from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Students learn to recognise and interpret the range of literary forms and devices used by novelists. It makes the difference between reading as a pastime and reading as an academic exercise and the assessment rewards the student who has learned to select and judge.

The self-assessment performs several functions. It makes explicit the overall rationale for the department’s approach to assessment and makes clear the relationship between the diagnostic essay and the final assessment. Since tutors also use the self-assessment sheet to grade the diagnostic essay, there is also evident consistency and openness in the demands made on students and the standards of judgement applied. The self-assessment form also provides feedback to these students on their progress.


2. Using peer assessment and the personal statement to improve independence of mind and originality of approach in interpretative and written practice

Although the course where this assessment design is used is not taught within a Literature curriculum, it is structured around theoretical and issues based texts which are common to us. Here assessment is being used to underline the point that the experience of students themselves can help to structure and improve subject specific learning. This assessment makes student opinion its starting point. Tutor experience suggests that many students confuse the idea of criticism with being negative, shouting down. Equally, once students read an authoritative narrative such as Weber’s on class, they feel unable to write their own. This assessment design closes the gap between theoretical text and student reader by involving the students at all stages of the course. The students are the ones to select the texts for study. They bring work to writing workshops and peer assess their colleagues. Implicit in this teaching, learning and assessment design is the belief that personal experience is a sound foundation for learning.

Assessment design: plan for personal statement (10 per cent), presentation on personal statement (10 per cent, peer assessed), 5,000­7,000 word critical statement (80 per cent).
University of East London
Unit title: Political philosophy

The unit encourages a close reading of texts in political and social philosophy. It provides a forum in which issues in political philosophy can be subjected to debate, and critical analysis in discussion and writing. Staff and students negotiate the texts for study and students are encouraged to read those texts without recourse to commentaries and secondary summaries of the text. Texts may be chosen to explore certain themes such as identity, women in philosophy, social contract, social justice etc. In the past students have selected texts by Mary Wollstonecraft, Marx and Weber amongst others. The format of the unit is a weekly one and a half hour seminar and an hours workshop plus two hours individual tutorial entitlement.

The main assignment is a personal statement. The students critically reviews his/her own position on a topic of his/her choice, with appropriate references to the present literature. The personal statement has to be word processed or typed, using standard footnote and bibliographic conventions.

Students are required to submit a plan for the personal statement by week nine of the semester and to make a presentation to the group on their statement in weeks eleven and twelve. In addition, each week a student makes an introductory presentation on an agreed text of about fifteen minutes which is followed by group discussion. There is also a weekly writing workshop devoted to planning the statement, exploring personal experience in writing, setting out an argument. Students and tutors read and comment on each other’s work in progress.


3. Using peer assessment to improve student understanding of bibliographical transmission

This two semester course focuses on the relationship between the written text of Shakespeare and performance (including issues of bibliographical transmission). Both the linguistic analysis and editing exercise are peer assessed and the student’s mark depends partly on the level of insight and help displayed in marking their partners work.

Assessment design: Close linguistic analysis of a chosen extract from Shakespeare (10 per cent); editing a short passage from primary sources (10 per cent); portfolio of three or four short pieces of work including — reviews of performances; creative writing; programme notes for actual or invented productions; essay on some aspect of the history of a chosen play — total 4, 000 words (50 per cent). 2, 000 word essay comparing the dramatic techniques utilised in a Shakespeare play and any other play related to it (30 per cent).

Queen Mary and Westfield College, London University level 2/3

The tutor asks his/her students to complete a review in order to encourage the concept of drafting and redrafting in the light of criticism. This review is peer assessed and briefly ‘marked’ but the mark is not recorded. The students are at liberty to revise this review in the light of all comments received and to submit it (or not) as part of their portfolio.

Skills-based Assessment

‘Graduates who have studied English as a significant component of their degree will have acquired a range of complementary literary, linguistic and critical skills. Individual degree programmes will chose to place the emphasis on developing particular abilities and skills. Individual degree programmes will chose to place the emphasis on developing particular abilities and skills’. (CCUE/QAA: 1999).

In what follows we provide examples of units where tutors use assessment to underline key subject specific skills.

  1. Using assessment to ensure students acquire the basic skills and techniques for independent research
  2. Varying assessment to test proficiency in a range of skills and knowledge
  3. Keeping a journal to improve understanding of how to structure a long piece of work
  4. Adopt an Author: using portfolios to show case online archival research
  5. Using a creative writing portfolio to improve student understanding of the basic technical features involved in narrative and verse writing
  6. Using peer assessment to improve student understanding of bibliographical transmission

1. Using assessment to ensure students acquire the basic skills and techniques for independent research

Assessment becomes an opportunity for students to find out the standard of research required for an essay and a site for them to discover and evaluate collaborative work. Interestingly, this practice also assumes that students need to experience a hands on approach to genre. Instead of professionalising this experience, however, the tutor adapts creative writing pedagogy for his own course.

The practice is used in a unit which aims to enable students to engage in old and new debates about putative origins of the novel, to provide space for students to practice their skills in producing prose fiction in carefully defined forms and styles, to enable students to acquire the basic skills and techniques for independent literary research, and develop their IT skills.

Assessment design: research exercise (30 per cent), group presentation (30 per cent), 2,500-3,000 word essay (40 per cent)
University of East London level 2, 20 credits
Title of unit: The Origins of the Novel

For the research exercise students are given a list of open topics in their unit guide. They are advised to start thinking about choosing a topic as soon as the unit begins but time is set aside in several sessions too. It is assumed that the students are familiar with the computerised system for finding books and articles in the library (learning resources centre). When the students have completed their literature search they write a brief review of the existing range of writing on their chosen general topic (2 sides of A4 at most). They also provide a brief account of their research processes (CD-ROMs etc.) up to this point. The second part of the exercise consists of a brief written evaluation of at least two existing pieces of work (2 sides of A4 at most). This evaluation is intended to help students formulate a specific question for their final essay. The students conclude the exercise with a plan for the structure of the essay, a brief summary of main debates and subsidiary issues, an indicative list of probable sources to be used, and an account of IT processes which will be required. They are expected to use acceptable conventions for producing footnotes/endnotes and bibliographies and to produce the exercise on a word processor.

In the essay the student is expected to engage with a variety of arguments and approaches and to produce elaborate expositions of the relevant subject matter. The students are asked to bear in mind that the essay is a culmination of all the work done in the preceding twelve weeks.

The students are given guidelines to help them through the research exercise. Given the diversity of the East London student intake, many students initially find the research exercise very daunting (hence the pedantically precise guidelines — which were requested by the students after the first try in 1996). Once the exercise has been completed and marked, however, most students express confidence in their command of research processes.

For the purposes of assessment, each relevant part of the exercise receives extensive tutor comments, and marks are assigned according to departmental criteria. So far, other members of the teaching team and our external examiners have expressed a high degree of satisfaction.

Notes for The Research Exercise

In the Unit Guide you will find a list of ‘open topics’ which is meant to serve as your starting point for your research exercise. You should start thinking about your potential areas of main interest as soon as the unit begins. Before your independent study week, time will be set aside in several sessions to help you get started with your research, but you should have a fairly clear idea about what you want to do – before we begin our more formal discussion of method.

You will already be familiar with the computerised system for finding books and articles in the Library (Learning Resources Centre). If you haven’t done so already, you will need to familiarise yourselves with bibliographies available on CD-ROM. Your set texts also contain good old- fashioned printed bibliographies which may aid you in your initial orientation. (The Norton Critical Editions of Robinson Crusoe and Tom Jones are particularly useful. The critical essay included in those volumes may ultimately turn out to be among the most useful of your sources – so try to familiarise yourselves with them as soon as possible). And try to get into the habit of simply browsing the relevant shelves in the Library. Feel free to use other libraries as well. Please make sure that you book CD-ROM stations well in advance. If a disk happens not to be available, please continue your research by other means. When you have completed your literature search, you are expected to write (as part of the exercise) a brief (2 A4 sides at most) review of the existing range of writing on your chosen general topic, providing – in addition – a brief account of your research processes (CD-ROMS etc) up to this point. The next part of your exercise will consist of a brief 2 A4 sides at most) written evaluation of at least two existing pieces of work. This will lead to the formulation of the specific questions you will address in your final essay. You should conclude your exercise with a plan for the structure of the essay, a brief summary of main debates and subsidiary issues, an indicative list of probable sources to be used and an account of IT processes which will be required. You will of course be expected to use acceptable conventions for producing such things as footnotes/endnotes and bibliographies and to produce these on your word processor.


2. Varying assessment to test proficiency in a range of skills and knowledge

The three-fold assessment for this unit has evolved over a number of years. The main purpose was to assess students in a variety of different forms in order to assess a range of skills and knowledge. In addition, the three forms of assessment were chosen in order to guarantee that students covered a sufficient number of texts and theories for a level three 20 credit unit. The assessment package seems to work very well – and has been singled out for praise by the external examiner.

Assessment design: 1,000 word exercise (25 per cent); 3, 000 word essay (50 per cent); group presentation (25 per cent)
Sheffield Hallam University level 3, 20 credit unit

The unit where the assessment is practised aims to introduce the students to the relationships between prose fiction and film through a study of the practice of filmic adaptation, to deploy critical discourses of difference in the analysis of specific texts and to explore recent methodological approaches to the problematic of adaptation. By the end of the unit students will be able to analyse the interactions between prose and filmic texts; critically discuss the problematic of textuality in relation to both media; situate texts within a range of cultural contexts; develop sophisticated critical frameworks with which to describe the practice of adaptation.

The 1,000 word written exercise tests the students’ ability to offer close analysis of a specific short section from a prose or filmic text. The students complete a critical analysis of a brief filmic scene and/or written passage from one of the set texts, commenting in particular on the processes of adaptation revealed in the specific example.

The 3,000 word essay encourages them to construct a broader argument which demonstrates a grasp of theoretical issues and their application. The essay title is decided after negotiation with the tutor. The essay should demonstrate an awareness of the theoretical and conceptual issues raised by the unit as a whole and should make reference to at least one of the set texts other than that discussed in the critical analysis exercise.

The group presentation is designed to encourage students to work over a period of time independently of a tutor, to undertake original collaborative research and to devise suitable strategies for communicating that research to an audience. Students in groups of five are asked to give a presentation of about twenty minutes to two examiners. The presentation examines one example of filmic adaptation from a prescribed list (although groups can negotiate other texts with their tutor). The presentation has to offer a detailed reading and comparison of how two scenes from the novel or short story under consideration have been adapted for the cinema. Students are required to submit the working notes for the presentation and there is a short oral examination afterwards in which students are asked questions about issues arising from the presentation. All members of the group are awarded the same mark.


3. Keeping a journal to improve understanding of how to structure a long piece of work

Essentially, this assessment asks students to think about how they structure a creative work, and how that structuring helps maintain reader/audience interest. Good answers are reflective about this process and the better synopses plan a piece of work that is viable within the chosen genre. As in other creative writing units, a wide spectrum of language is encouraged, and the better students take advantage of this permission to explore registers and structures not found in the traditional essay. Because this unit is about structure, we expect the answers themselves to be well constructed.

Assessment design: coursework (diary or journal of the student’s own exploratory process, illustrated from work written on and for the course or by an essay on a topic arising from the course) 100 per cent.
University of North London
Advanced

The course aims to encourage and foster students’ creative confidence, to introduce students to a range of compositional method, to introduce students to the experience of planning and organising a longer piece of writing that will hold reader/audience attention.

Students are encouraged to keep an ongoing journal or diary of their seminar learning. For the assessed coursework students can hand in edited extracts from their journal, with commentary and with examples of creative writing done on the course, an essay on a (given) topic arising from the course, the essay to be illustrated from the journal and from the writing and reading done on the course, or a synopsis of a longer work (e.g. novel, play, book of stories, narrative poem, comic strip format) planned during the course, with commentary arising from seminar learning and with sample draft excerpts offered as illustration. The assignments should not exceed 3,500 words (excluding examples of creative writing).


4. Adopt an Author: using portfolios to show case online archival research

Assessment design: portfolio which typically consists of a biographical, bibliographical and critical essay (100 per cent)
Sheffield Hallam University, level three
Unit title: Dissertation


5. Using a creative writing portfolio to improve student understanding of the basic technical features involved in narrative and verse writing

Students are assessed by a folder of work which includes draft materials. The course aims to introduce students to the mechanics of writing creatively, to provide practical experience of Verse Writing and Narrative Writing, to inform the relationship between critical and creative activity, to develop confidence in writing

Assessment design: Folder of original work which must contain all drafts of work in progress (100 per cent).
Sheffield Hallam University, level one, twenty credits
Unit title: Verse and narrative writing

The unit is delivered through two one hour and twenty five minute workshops, one for verse writing and the other for narrative writing. Students undertake a range of formal exercises in both verse and narrative, read out their work in workshop sessions, and receive critical response and feedback. In addition, student learning is supported by two software packages, Verse Writer and Story Writer. Eight one hour slots are available for them to use this software in a specially assigned multimedia suite. At the end of the unit the students present a folder consisting of their selection of three verse exercises and a maximum of four narrative exercises. The folder must also contain all drafts of work in progress.


6. Using peer assessment to improve student understanding of bibliographical transmission

This two semester course focuses on the relationship between the written text of Shakespeare and performance (including issues of bibliographical transmission). Both the linguistic analysis and editing exercise are peer assessed and the student’s mark depends partly on the level of insight and help displayed in marking their partners work.

Assessment design: Close linguistic analysis of a chosen extract from Shakespeare (10 per cent); editing a short passage from primary sources (10 per cent); portfolio of three or four short pieces of work including — reviews of performances; creative writing; programme notes for actual or invented productions; essay on some aspect of the history of a chosen play — total 4, 000 words (50 per cent). 2, 000 word essay comparing the dramatic techniques utilised in a Shakespeare play and any other play related to it (30 per cent).

Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London level 2/3

The tutor asks his/her students to complete a review in order to encourage the concept of drafting and redrafting in the light of criticism. This review is peer assessed and briefly ‘marked’ but the mark is not recorded. The students are at liberty to revise this review in the light of all comments received and to submit it (or not) as part of their portfolio.