Dr Heather McQueen describes her innovative approach to assessment in the Biological Sciences.
Dr Heather McQueen – Assessment and Feedback
“The students were sitting a two-part assessment today. They came to the class and they took a test individually under exam conditions, and at the end of that test we gathered in their papers and asked them to get into groups of four. And then we gave them the same paper and asked them to resit the test as a group, as a group effort. And we gathered in those results as well, which will also contribute to the students' scores.
The reason that we did this was because we feel that it's an ideal learning opportunity at the end of a test. When the student has sat a test, they're really interested to know what the answer is; they're really engaged with the material. And it seems to be a shame not to exploit that moment to allow the students to go off wondering what the answers were and then to lose interest in the test. And so instead we got them to discuss it and to fully understand what the answers were and why.”
“Well I think it's really interesting to interact with other people because sometimes we have our own ideas, and it's nice to be able to exchange our ideas because we can be wrong, and people could be right, and by exchanging we can realize more easily that we were wrong. So I think it's really interesting.”
Dr Heather McQueen – Associate Director of Teaching, Biological Sciences
“Because of the calibre of our students, it's really a good idea for them to make the most of their peers, to work together with their peers, and I think this helps to break down some of those barriers to get them working together in an environment where it really matters that they do work together.”
“It certainly has a social aspect with the group review afterwards. And I think if you haven't come to the lecture before with a group, then it certainly allows you to make connections across your course and across other courses because it's just a module, so it's shared with other honours degrees as well. So, yeah, definitely.”
“The idea is that the students sit the test the beginning of the course, and then they sit the test on the last day of the course, which was today, and then I'm able to calculate their learning gains in the course with respect to concepts, with respect to a deeper understanding of the material, rather than to factual knowledge accumulated.
The group setting normally comprises about a twentieth of the overall score, so the majority of the score that the student gets back from the test is the result of their own work. But they can boost that score by their discussions with other students.”
“I suppose some people might say, well, the group test, people can maybe hide, maybe not be fully assessed if they're in the group.”
“No, I think it's better because we can all talk about it. I think it's good how they did individual first and then group because you can talk about it and you can kind of remember what you said for your answer like we have, and we can discuss it and see where each other might have gone wrong and how another answer might be right. And it can be explained, and we can talk about it. I like it much better than individually only.”
“This will help us to find out exactly what our students think because I think we have a lot of assumptions about our students' understanding of the topics.
I had some colleagues with me today who were looking at the results of this test with another group of students and were quite horrified at some of the misunderstandings that the students held. So I think for my colleagues and myself, it would be very useful to understand fully what our students really understand about some of these concepts.
But I think that also by combining the concept test with the two-part form of assessment that we've been discussing means that the students get a chance to address those misunderstandings. Because it's very hard to change something that you've understood for a long time to be absolutely true, and so this opportunity to discuss with other students and to be faced with what the true understanding of the concept is, is very good for the students.”
“I found it very engaging and very interesting, actually. I quite enjoyed it. We had a similar experiment at the beginning of the year--assessment thing, which was a bit weird at the time. I was just like, "Oh we're getting examined on the first day of lectures". But now, looking back at it now, I can see why they did it-- just to see how much we've grown and how much we've learned over the course of the course. So, yeah, I found it very useful, and very interesting.”
“Despite it being a test, it kind of seemed like a fun and enjoyable class today. There were lots of smiling faces at the end. I mean, I've seen faces coming out of tests before that look very, very unhappy. And I didn't see any of those faces today.
I had students coming up to me thanking me for the test and wishing me well at the end of it, which is not really standard at the end of a test, so I think it was a really enjoyable occasion for staff and students alike.”