Getting students to improve the quality of your assessments

How to write better assignments in less time with the help of your students

One of the challenges of a new semester is ensuring that we produce high quality rigorous assessments. Here’s a quick and easy way of improving the quality of your assessments.

I teach a third year strategy module.  Two weeks before I officially handed out the assessment, I uploaded a copy of the previous year’s assignment to Google docs with students having viewing rights a week before. Briefly the assignment asks students to assess the market performance of a chosen organisation and make recommendations for changes. Students were asked to consider the following:

  • ·         Does the assignment make sense?
  • ·         Which elements need clarification or changing?
  • ·         What organisation shall the case be based around? Should it be more than one?

I then asked them in their seminar slots (there are six running in parallel) to edit the document or make comments on it.  

On the left is the assessment, on the right are the comments. 
On the left is the assessment, on the right are the comments. 

During a period of around four hours, the students made around 5000 edits to the assignment and I believe this act of co-creation had the following positive benefits:

  • It alerted me to problems with my own writing where I thought I had been clear but had not;
  • Most of the conversations on the day were student to student and therefore the knowledge creation about what should be in the assignment or what elements were unclear was self-directed;
  • The students had a much deeper understanding of what the assignment required because they had to consider carefully which organisations would best meet the learning outcomes and assessment criteria;
  • JISC talks about developing digital capabilities that will make someone fit to live, learn and work in a digital society. One of the key attributes is the ability to collaboration and co-ordinate activity in a digital environment. This works perfectly for that type of development. 

One of the interesting side-effects was that although I stated to students that they only had to edit it during their normal seminar time, many continued to edit all day or for many days afterwards. 

The end result was that many things that I thought were clear were obviously not and together we produced a much clearer and stronger assessment. I now do this for all my modules.