Tuesday, 29 September 2015

ACSME Discipline Day 2015: Is credit for feedback a smart move? Discuss......

[Edit: updated to include link to sadler paper]

Hi folks,

We are an intimate gathering this year, so I propose that we keep proceedings informal but focussed. If anyone has any agenda items they would like to discuss, please email me, text me or pull me aside at the conference. I humbly offer the following as a discussion point:

Credit for formative assessment: a path to mediocrity?

Assessment in our physics units usually consists of formative assessment where students apply their new knowledge (e.g. problem sets) and summative assessment where they can demonstrate their level of proficiency (e.g. an exam). Many university science courses (e.g. at La Trobe) adopt the principles of constructive alignment [1], where the course assessment is driven by the learning outcomes. In this model, everything the students are required to do should be assessed so that feedback can be given and signals sent about the relative importance of different elements.

While assigning credit to formative assessment does focus the learning design and enforce timely feedback, it also provides an opportunity for students to accumulate marks ‘along the way’. It can be difficult to set an appropriate marking scheme that rewards students for effort and makes allowances for the journey towards mastery and yet provides solid feedback about what standards are ultimately acceptable. This can lead to the situation where students get, say, 60% throughout the unit, only to fail because of poor performance on the final exam. It also becomes possible for students to compensate for poor summative performance by accumulating formative marks; they pass the unit, but have not at any stage demonstrated mastery of the material.

Royce Sadler has written about the subtleties of feedback [2,3], and warns that students may not be able to access feedback for improvement in the ways we assume. He spoke to the Australian Council of the Deans of Science at their annual Teaching and Learning conference this year, and provoked the attendees by proposing that formative feedback be decoupled from the final grade in a unit.

What do you think?

I will lead/moderate a discussion on this topic, and see if we can arrive at a set of conclusions that we can disseminate to the rest of the Physics Education Network. So, please try to read the attached, and come with a position!

See you there.