During spring 2017 I wrote blog posts about pedagogical courses I took on supervision of oral presentations and methods for activating students as well as a leadership course – all given by Uppsala University. This blog post is about the third pedagogical course I took during the spring term – assessment, grading and feedback. This was a 1.5hp course which included four scheduled days, which mostly focused on group work, and one day devoted to own work with developing a course of one’s own choice.
In the individual work I once again chose to focus on developing the communication course for first year computer science students at KTH – the course I worked with for almost a decade before I started my postdoc in Uppsala. The individual task was to go through everything related to assessment, grading and feedback, starting with refining the intended learning outcomes. I thought everything was already in place regarding the learning outcomes, but when considering the big picture I suddenly realized that one of the most important aspects covered in the grading criteria – the ability to adjust the content of the reports to a particular target audience – was not brought up in the intended learning outcomes. There was also an intended learning outcome about being able to use different text production tools, but the only tool used in the course is Latex. After adding a new learning outcome about target audiences and narrowing down the learning outcome about text production to focus only on Latex there was a much better constructive alignment – clearer connection between assessment tasks, learning activities and intended learning outcomes. Constructive alignment was one of the key principles in the course and I can really see why it’s important.
After considering the intended learning outcomes, the next step in the individual task was to look over the assessment tasks – in my case different versions of the report and a critical review of another student’s report draft. When it came to this part I came to the conclusion that everything should be kept. Almost an entire day of the course was devoted to discussing means of providing feedback and peer feedback and assessment was brought up several times as highly beneficial especially when handing in different versions of e.g. a text while working towards a final deliverable. This was exactly the way we did it in my communication course – the students handed in different versions of reports which were discussed in small groups.
The last part of the individual task was devoted to refining the grading criteria and making sure that they were relevant with regard to the intended learning outcomes. This was probably the part where I learned the most from this course. I started out with qualitative grading criteria, regarding several aspects (e.g. content, structure, language,…), for each grade A-E. In most cases, the only thing that differed between different steps was a single word (e.g. ok, good, very good, excellent,…) and hence I used continuous grading criteria. I learned from the course that continuous grading criteria are often hard to relate to actual achievements and they are also hard to measure. Due to this I tried to change to discrete criteria in as a large extent as possible. Thus, instead of just varying single adjectives I tried to describe what they should actually do for a certain grade (e.g. instead of just writing “very good” I made it more explicit what should be accomplished).
One part of the course which I especially enjoyed was that we, several times during each of the scheduled days, left our groups to have a discussion with our “critical friends”. Before the course I had never heard about this concept. A critical friend was in this case another course participant who worked at the same department (in my case IT). The reason why we should discuss with our critical friends was that we should get the chance to discuss different problems with someone who is teaching within the same subject area. Quite often after a new topic had been introduced by the teachers, we discussed with our critical friend how the topic related to our area and our respective courses. Most of the time these discussions focused on the course we had chosen to focus on (in my case the communication course discussed above) and I definitely got quite a few ideas which I continued to work with in my individual assignment. The concept with critical friends was great and I’m quite sure that it can be used in quite a few courses on different levels. I will definitely try to incorporate the idea in my own courses when relevant!
I really enjoyed this course and once again I learned a lot. I definitely think the communication course is better now, especially when it comes to the grading criteria. I also think that I’m now well equipped for defining course plans and designing courses from scratch. I can definitely recommend this course both to inexperienced and experienced teachers!