As previously advised on Teche, a new assessment policy is set to launch on 1 July 2021. A number of policies have been merged to a new assessment policy and accompanying procedures. The new policy will apply to assessments offered in Session 2 2021.

This post will explore requirements around the timely provision of assessment marking criteria and feedback to students. Previous articles have covered limits to group marking and limits of exam duration.

Feedback is useful to student learning if it is timely, targeted and actionable (See Dawson et al 2019 for a detailed discussion of effective feedback characteristics). Timely provision of feedback is especially important if subsequent tasks are linked in terms of building towards achievement of similar learning outcomes. Access to and understanding of the criteria and standards used in assessment is also critical to enabling students to understand the task and action the feedback that was provided (Sadler 2010).

Policy changes

Timely provision of criteria:

This change is akin to a clarification rather than a change. The old policy simply stated in section 5.4.5 “Staff must: advise students in relation to expectations relevant to specific assessment tasks by providing appropriate guidance, supporting material, standards and rubrics.” However it was silent on when that should occur.

The new assessment procedure now states (clause 43), “It is key to help students understand the method by which results in assessment are determined. Assessment criteria and performance standards (ideally in the form of a rubric) should be made available to students at the beginning of the teaching session and must be available no later than the point at which the task is given. The task is given when instructions for the task are posted online (e.g., iLearn) or explained in class.”

Timely provision of feedback prior to a subsequent task:

The new assessment procedure (69) now states: “Where feedback on a task would allow students to improve their learning on a subsequent task (i.e., the tasks cover the same learning outcomes) then some feedback on the earlier task must be provided prior to the due date of the subsequent task, so that students have an opportunity to assess and improve their learning before completing the subsequent task. This feedback may be formal or informal, directed to individuals or to a group.” The aim of this clause is to provide actionable knowledge in a timely manner such that students can improve their response to the next assessment task.

What staff need do to get ready

Providing assessment criteria:

Best practice is to provide all assessment details, including the standards and criteria used for marking, to students at the beginning of the session. Developing the marking criteria and standards at the same time that the task is designed makes it easier to align all the elements to unit learning outcomes. Placing all these on the unit iLearn site means these are easily available to students as soon as they gain access. Early provision of these details allows students to make informed choices about enrolment, plan their study programme for the whole session and to understand the scope and complexity of the criteria and standards against which performance will be measured across the unit. Providing plenty of advance notice of the assessment requirements also diminishes a significant factor in students engaging in contract cheating – that of tight turn around times, particularly for larger weighted tasks (Bretag et al 2019).  

It is acknowledged that in cases such as staff changes, new staff taking on a unit or the first offering of a unit that not all details may have been finalised by the beginning of the session. At the latest, the policy does require that the marking criteria and standards (ideally in the format of a rubric) are provided at the same time that the detailed task instructions and guidance are given to students. This could occur in class, but should also be placed on the iLearn unit site. Sending a notification email to students or news forum post is advisable in order to draw students attention to important new information.

Timely provision of feedback:

Consider the timing of assessment tasks to ensure that you have enough time to mark and provide feedback before the next task is due.

If time is tight, the feedback can be framed as ‘early findings’ comprising aggregated or a summary that includes common positives and advice for improvement targeting issues found across the cohort. Staff can leverage the marking moderation process to gather common positives and improvement points. See Assessment Procedures clauses 61-66 for details of moderation expectations during the marking process.

The delivery of individual feedback will still be expected and it is of course best to provide it as soon as possible given that targeted, specific feedback is more actionable for individuals.

Making feedback effective means getting students to engage with the feedback so that it becomes feed-forward into the next task. For example, this could involve having students respond to the feedback you have provided where students outline their plan to improve their work. Adding to the incentive, you could withhold numeric marks while only providing comments until student reactions are received (or until a week or so later).

Advice

Rubrics:

Providing effective feedback (feed forward):

A Teche post “Turn feedback into feedforward or a degustation menu” provides a summary of the OLT project “Feedback for learning: closing the assessment loop“.

A series to Teche posts on feedback

Macquarie University specific guidance on Feedback is available in the CMS wiki.

Macquarie University Teach website section on providing effective Feedback, including examples.

References

Bretag, T., Harper, R., Burton, M., Ellis, C., Newton, P., Haeringen, K. van, Saddiqui, S., & Rozenberg, P. (2019). Contract cheating and assessment design: Exploring the relationship. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(5), 676–691. DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1527892

Dawson, P., Henderson, M., Mahoney, P., Phillips, M., Ryan, T., Boud, D., & Molloy, E. (2019). What makes for effective feedback: staff and student perspectives. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 44, 1, 25-36. DOI:10.1080/02602938.2018.1467877

Sadler, D. R. (2010). Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 535–550. DOI:10.1080/02602930903541015

Posted by Mathew Hillier

Mathew has been engaged by Macquarie University as an e-Assessment Academic in residence and is available to answer questions by MQ staff. Mathew specialises in Digital Assessment (e-Assessment) in Higher Education. Has held positions as an advisor and academic developer at University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, Monash University and University of Adelaide. He has also held academic teaching roles in areas such as business information systems, multimedia arts and engineering project management. Mathew recently led a half million dollar Federal government funded grant on e-Exams across ten university partners and is co-chair of the international 'Transforming Assessment' webinar series as the e-Assessment special interest group under the Australasian society for computers in learning in tertiary education. He is an honorary academic University of Queensland, Monash University and an adjunct academic at University of Tasmania.

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