Helen Webster

Assessment and Feedback

By Helen Webster, Head of the Writing Development Centre

“The structure doesn’t flow”

“You need to engage more critically with the literature”

“More detail and greater depth of discussion needed”

“Hard to follow – make sure your points are clearly expressed”

It’s frustrating both to give and receive feedback repeatedly on the same issues and not see any improvement. Feedback is highlighted in the NSS and NUSU campaigns so we know that students see it as a priority. We also know that academic staff don’t always feel that students are engaging with their feedback or even recognise it as such.

In the Writing Development Centre, our team of Learning Developers spend a lot of time talking about feedback, working with students in one to one appointments to help them understand what it means and how to act on it. In a neutral space, we’re able to sit down with a student and spend an hour really exploring their learning in depth to identify what’s going on and find a way forward.

Sometimes the issue is located in the product – the written assignment. It’s understandable that students might be uncertain of how to best articulate their learning. There’s no such thing as generic ‘academic writing’ – each subject has different, characteristic writing conventions and genres of text, and each stage of study raises the bar with new expectations. We’re not subject experts, but we can help a student figure out how to think and express themselves as a member of that discipline community so their learning is clearly demonstrated. We might discuss planning, drafting and editing, signposting and structure or integrating scholarship.

Very often, though, the issue is located somewhere further back in the process, only indirectly visible to the marker through the written product. We can spend time with a student exploring their perceptions and assumptions about what they’re being asked to do for an assignment or task, evaluate their current study strategies, and develop new understanding or approaches that will suit them as an individual learner. We might look at reading and note-taking, critical thinking, planning, time management, revising or how to use lectures and seminars effectively.

We also offer bespoke workshops on request, embedded in your module or course and tailored to the stage of study and discipline. Here too, we draw on feedback, meeting with you to discuss the aims of your teaching, your expectations in assessment and the issues you most commonly see arising. To help us make the workshop as tailored as possible, we request samples of assignments, essay questions, marking criteria etc so we can help students understand our guidance with concrete examples and authentic activities. We can also co-develop sessions, consult on teaching study skills or provide teaching materials for your own teaching.

To refer students to our one to one provision, you might signpost them to our appointments via our website: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/subject-support/wdc/  To request a workshop, contact us at wdc@ncl.ac.uk

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