Over the 10 years I have been teaching psychology, I have taught within a range of higher education institutions. Each institution has been unique in the way students were taught and assessed and this has been of a great benefit to me as I have been able to bring in my own teaching methods, alongside using the methods that were traditionally used within the institution I was working in. Within an undergraduate population, there will be a diverse range of students with differing abilities. It’s important that we, as educators, develop assessments that we use our own pedagogical knowledge to facilitate this.
When I was completing my own undergraduate degree, assessments were in the form of longer pieces of coursework, such as lab reports or essays, or they were given as exam based assessments that required remembering information taught over the 12 week semester. For me, I did not find any form of assessment easy, and I often noticed that a lot of my fellow students struggled with exam stress due to the pressure on completing those assessments.
When I was working within a university in the South of England, the way in which undergraduate students were assessed was slightly different. Yes, the traditional use of exams and coursework was utilised, but there was also another form of assessment used known as an assessed worksheet.
Each week students would attend a lecture and then a practical workshop. At the end of the workshop, the final 20 minutes would involve students completing a worksheet on the content that week. Students were asked to be as quiet as possible within those 20 minutes but if they were really struggling with the assessment, they could call upon the workshop teachers for help. The workshop tutors would not give out the answers, of course, but would instead engage with the students to try and adapt the way they may have been thinking about the question. The assessed worksheets were quite short, about 10-15 questions, and did not require students to revise as students could use the materials that they had developed from that week. In general, the completion of 10 assessed worksheets equated to 20% of the module grade.
While developing and using assessed worksheets, I found many advantages:
- The assessed worksheets gave students the opportunity to be assessed with feedback. Students would receive their mark and the workshop teacher would also provide the answers (after the assessment deadline) so that they could check where they had answered correctly or incorrectly. The workshop teacher encouraged students to ask questions if they did not understand where they had gone wrong.
- The assessed worksheets gave students the opportunity to take a test in a less stressful situation such as a lab class. We know that exams and formal assessments can have a negative impact on mental health. By sitting the students in a less formal setting, where they could talk while completing the work, was designed to eliminate such stress.
- Staff can keep track of the topics where students are not performing well and can offer more support. This was particularly important for the topic I was teaching (research methods) as I taught a range of quantitative and qualitative methods that were quite difficult to understand. It also meant that I could provide students with extra support where needed.
- When developing and implementing the worksheets, we made them as interactive as possible. I used an interactive quiz tool called Socrative and this allowed me to add in different types of questions, images and engaging tasks.
- For students who has missed a workshop, the assessed worksheet link was left open until the middle of the following week. This allowed any absent students to go over the material of the previous week before completing the worksheet.
I must admit that assessed worksheet do also come with some negatives. They are time consuming to develop and depending upon how many you need for teaching; you may need to pay for Socrative. For me, the classes were quite small, so it made all of the administration tasks a lot easier. Socrative also does offer a free trial where you can create 5 different interactive assessments for up to 50 students, so when I implement this within my teaching next year, I can do this without payment. When I was working in the previous institution, I was also part of a teaching team so each colleague developed and marked their own assessments, although in a lot of cases, Socrative did mark the assessments online. If you have PhD students who need teaching experience, this could be a way in which experience is given and a way in which assessments can be more informally developed.
If anyone is thinking about using assessed worksheets, consider when and how they should be used and how engaging they are for students. Assessing students too much across a module can cause more stress than needed, therefore assessed worksheets can relieve some of this pressure. When I used assessed worksheets, I would use a range of questions that would require students to go online and look at resources, and this did engage students who were maybe not as interested in the topic.
Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University.
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