Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Academic Affairs

We had our school's staff conference today. Some of it was general briefing about the state of recruitment and so on (you suckas over in the School of Applied Science - we OWNED you this year, player-haters), and some of it explored issued like feedback, marking and so on.

Some general questions for you, following the brief chat we had on Twitter:

How do you persuade people to collect their marked work (let alone read it)? My shared office is stuffed with uncollected work. I spent an evening last week shredding essays written in first year by this year's graduates - and teasing them about it via Twitter. I've tried one-to-one sessions. Only the A students came. I've tried taking work to class - and carried a big pile back to the office. We could ask the Registry to return work - but that removes the opportunity to talk to the marker about the work. We could withhold grades until work is collected, or require the students to respond to our feedback as a requirement for the next assignment.

The major problems, as I see them, are that some students simply don't care about feedback: it's all about the grade, while others are scared of a potentially difficult encounter. Even if you've done well, judgement is a stressful event. Noting a bad grade might sting, but being forced to engage in a dialogue which requires instant and vocal self-reflection requires considerable emotional qualities.

We can enforce various systems to get work back to students, but to my mind, the systems should follow the culture. We need to persuade students that we're judging work, not the individual; that commentary and reflection are integral educational events; that grades aren't educational outcomes and that it's the conversation that matters.

I co-led a session on Tweeting for Academics. There seemed to be acceptance that participation could be useful for networking academics, but hostility to using Twitter for teaching ('tweaching'?). Partly for equity: not all students have the technology, but mostly because we're wary of pushing students in the direction of a proprietary, corporate product. It may not last, of course, and we shouldn't be encouraging students to surrender their personal information for sale to corporate interests. It was also felt that using Twitter for teaching opened colleagues up to continual demands on our time and attention, and blurred the boundaries between work and social life. I'm certainly sympathetic to these arguments. I wouldn't make Tweeting integral to any module, and I'm also wary of corporate incursions into academia and life. My weak solution is to give entirely false details to Twitter: I set up an otherwise unused email address for the purpose and don't give my real name. It's only a sticking plaster - what's your perspective on this?

1 comment:

Meryn McLaren said...

As I've already said over Twitter, I'm a fan of online marking and feedback as a way of ensuring that all students can access their marked and graded work. In the School of Education at my institution, for example, there are often cases where ITT students get work back (or not) in the middle or a teaching placement and can't collect it for 5 weeks and online marking would certainly go a long way towards solving these types of issues.

"We could withhold grades until work is collected, or require the students to respond to our feedback as a requirement for the next assignment."

These sound like good potential solutions - I particularly like the response to feedback idea as a way to develop students' self reflection skills - and maybe criticism is easier to take if it's also about something that the students can see themselves?

I think the crux of the matter is student engagement. If students are engaged in their studies, they will not only want to know the outcome of their work, but also want to know how to improve. So the question is really how to achieve this. It could be argued that the new fees system is not going to help the students who are already that way inclined move beyond viewing their degree as a 'product' rather than an intellectual exercise to fully immerse themselves in and stretch themselves with.