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Assessment week…


This week has been pretty manic since it was an entire week of assessments for my 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students. The 2nd year module is Language and Social Identity and the 3rd year one is Varieties of English, and for the past few years, assessment 1 has been the production of a conference-style poster, analysing data the group has collected by themselves through one of the approaches we cover in the module (assessment 2 is the much more prosaic essay-based approach).

There’s at least two responses to the assessment brief when it gets handed out. The first an outrage against group-based assessment. A lot of students dislike group work because it means that other students can coast and get a good grade at the expense of other students’ work. I get around this by having each student write up a regular blog on the weekly meetings they’re supposed to have. I also get them to fill out a self-evaluation form (which can be incredibly revealing about a student’s sense of their strengths and weaknesses). But perhaps the easiest way I get around this is by giving students a mark for the poster element and then a mark for their presentation element. This at least keeps students on their toes that they have to do the work and can’t rely on others to help them get a passing grade. If the presentation is poor, it impacts on their overall mark for the assessment.

The second response is normally one of quiet excitement. I really don’t like prescribing students with a particular set of questions they have to answer and I’ve found that when students are left to their own devices, they can come up with some really fantastic projects that they’re enthusiastic and motivated about. Over the past few years, I’ve had presentations on the language of the Fukushima nuclear accident, on greeting structure in Starbucks, on banter and masculinity and a whole bunch of others, and because students are invested in the projects, they work more conscientiously on them.

It’s a whole bunch of work for the students and marking it is a bunch of work for me because I have to give feedback on the poster and the presentation element, read through the self-evaluation forms for each group member, and read through the blogs for each group member. One saving grace is that we record the presentations for our external examiner, so I can go through the tape and double check a statement a student made, give better feedback on their presentation skills and generally be more transparent about the marks that are awarded.

So that’s what I’ve been doing this week – feedback for eight groups in my 2nd year class and six groups in my 3rd year class. I’ve managed to finish the 2nd year work and I’ve set aside Monday for my 3rd years. Roll on the summer break…

What kind of non-standard assessment do others out there use?

The Social Linguist

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