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Case 24
Engaging with the Standards: Using Feed-forward and Feedback

Contributor

Ian Cathers

Email

i.cathers@usyd.edu.au

Telephone

+612-9351-9287

Affiliation

Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, PO Box 170, Lidcombe NSW 1825, Australia

24.1 Context

This assessment method is used with a group of 1st year health science students at the University of Sydney (Australia) undertaking an introductory subject in physical sciences. There are currently about 160 students, in total, enrolled in generic health science, generic behavioural health science, or the oral health program.

The students, in the introductory subject in physical sciences, undertake a series of three simple, lab-based research projects that begin from their second day at university and lasting two weeks each. In groups of two or three students, they decide on a research question, then design and carry out an experiment to answer their question. Individually, the students write up and submit reports of each of the experiments.

This structure was chosen to provide small-group interaction, and early, regular feedback on the scientific method and some written communication skills.

24.2 Learning Outcomes being Assessed

The subject aims to assist students develop some generic skills in application of the ‘scientific method’, and in relation to technical report writing. In particular, the students are assessed on their ability to formulate, to carry out, to interpret and to report on a small experiment. They are assessed on these dimensions using their written report.

The subject, as a whole, is based on standards referenced assessment and the grading of student performance in these reports is explicitly based on published standards.

24.3 Assessment Procedures/Details

24.3.1 The Students

The students submit each report with an attached cover sheet. The cover sheet includes a grid that describes the standards for the various grades of the report’s main components. This part of the cover sheet is shown in the sample (see Appendix A). The students are required to self-assess their report against these standards and use ticks to indicate their judgments on the cover sheet before submission. Thus, the students not only submit their reports, but they also have to engage in a meta-analysis and ‘feedforward’ their understanding of what they have done.

24.3.2 The Staff

The staff use the same cover sheet to indicate their judgments and grading of each component of the report. These completed report sheets, together with other comments on the report, are then used as ‘feedback’ to students.

24.4 Strengths and Limitations

24.4.1 Strengths

The assessment procedure helps the students to actively engage with the standards. The students give an indication of what they think they have done, and this allows the staff to provide individualized and specific feedback. The assessment, therefore, becomes a more useful tool for teaching and learning.

24.4.2 Limitations

24.5 Contributor’s Reflections on the Assessment

The University’s Academic Board has embraced standards referencing as the preferred model of assessment and most of our undergraduate students are very familiar with its principles as a result of its use in matriculation assessments since 2001. However, informal observation suggests that, when given the chance, both the students and the staff can quickly revert to norm-referenced thinking and modes of operating. This is a shame, since well-executed standards referencing is far more transparent and can shape productive dialogue between the students and the staff.

In previous years, I had published and drawn students’ attention to the standards used in assessing their reports. However, it was clear that many students did not actively engage with the standards. The requirement of feedforward self-assessment has meant that most of the students give thought to what they have written—and now also actively use the standards to help craft their submissions.

Discrepancies between the student and the staff judgments can form the basis for individualized feedback, addressing particular student misconceptions about what they have done. The assessment of the students’ written work is time-consuming, and this is also the case here. However, it does make the provision of unstructured feedback more targeted and, therefore, more efficient since misconceptions about achievement are primarily addressed. For instance, there is no need to tell a student that they have not ‘integrated their conclusions with other research’ if they have already indicated this in their feedforward.

The students are positive about the clarity of the standards and the fact that these are also taught.

24.6 Bibliography

Appendix A

A sample assessment table showing checked boxes () indicating a student’s feedforward and checked circles () showing the structured component of the assessor’s feedback. Discrepancies between the student’s and the assessor’s judgments can form the basis for other targeted feedback in the form of comments.

Section

Aspect

Fail

Pass

Credit

Distinction

High Distinction

Introduction

Research Question and Context

Research question is not clearly stated.
☐○

States research question only or relates to an irrelevant context.
☐Ⓧ

States research question and reason for importance and relates these to a wider context.
☒Ⓧ

Research question is integrated into relevant literature and other research. Proper referencing.
☐○

Research question is integrated into relevant literature and other research. Coherently and concisely explained and properly referenced.
☐○

Materials and Methods

Only lists equipment used and/or a numbered ”recipe” that was followed.
☐○

Equipment and arrangement described in such a way that the experiment could be repeated. Any significant safety issues highlighted.
☒Ⓧ

As for Pass but reasons given for choices.
☐○

As for Credit but description of experiment indicates that it has been carried out with care.
☐○

As for Distinction but coherently and concisely explained.
☐○

Results

Tables, Graphs and Analysis

Graphs poorly/wrongly plotted and labeled, tables poorly constructed.
☐○

Results clearly labeled and presented. Appropriate axes, headings, legends etc. Irrelevant data presented or data presented repetitively.
☐○

As for Pass but only relevant tables/values/graphs provided that are related to research question.
☐○

As for Credit but also implemented a thoughtful analysis of results, such as errors and distributions.
☒Ⓧ

As for Distinction but also considered higher level analyses.
☐○

Results

Description

No, little or inaccurate description of results.
☐○

Description of main results.
☐○

Important trends in results indicated, particularly those related to research question.
☐Ⓧ

Main features of results described as well as any other important trends or features of the results.
☒○

As for Distinction but coherently and concisely explained.
☐○

Discussion and Conclusion

Experiment

No significant comments about the experimental method.
☐○

Comments on the problems with the experiment.
☐○

Identifies particular ways that the experiment could be improved.
☒○

As for Pass and also suggests other relevant experiments.
☐Ⓧ

As for Distinction but relates these aspects to the literature. Coherently and concisely explained.
☐○

Discussion and Conclusion

Context

Only restates or summarizes the results. No accurate connection between experimental findings and research question.
☐○

Connection made between results and research question.
☐○

As for Pass but relates results to a broader and relevant context.
☒Ⓧ

As for Credit but integrated with relevant literature. Properly referenced.
☐○

As for Distinction but coherently and concisely argued.
☐○