One of the things that you quickly become aware of teaching in the online age is that easy access to information doesn’t always mean that people will access it. We live in the age of the attention wars and if you want people to look at something then the best way to get them to look is to shout louder than anybody else.
This very true of getting students to read assessment briefs. I have actually come to believe that for the most part this document is rarely read by students yet it is a key part of the assessment puzzle. There is a solution though and it’s a simple one – get the students to read the assessment briefs in class. It seemed like a good idea and it turns out it is also a very absorbing one. It even appears to be quite motivating.
I tried it myself this week in three different classes and got quite different results on each occasion.
The first class was a level 4 (first year) group of around 18 students and we undertook the task towards the end of a session in an IT suite. Prior to the exercise we had been researching material for a presentation the students will give in a couple of weeks which feeds into their assessment. I set them the task of finding the assessment briefs on the VLE (moodle) and asked them to read them having explained they would need to take notes. While they were reading I set up a Padlet (more on this below) and put the URL up on a screen.
It took a while for them to find the assessment briefs and to read through them. I think the whole thing felt like a bit of an adventure and I felt there was an air of inquisitive enquiry about the activity. After a bit of a note-taking session I asked them to get into pairs to discuss their notes. Then I asked them to open the Padlet URL and add notes to the page which they did and you can see the results by following the link below:
The second class was older, a L6 (third year) group consisting mostly of international students. This class performed the task in a more perfunctory manner and the air of inquisitive inquiry was not present. Looking at what they posted to the Padlet you can see that in general they cut and pasted directly from the assessment briefs and there was not much of an attempt to paraphrase or summarise. This may have been down to the way I set up the task, but equally I can see on reflection that these students were much more experienced and more confident about managing assessment. Nevertheless, I would have expected more questions and a sense of investigation which doesn’t seem to be present in their Padlet which you can see below:
For the final session, again another L4 group of around 18 students I took the time to frame the task in a way that I hoped would encourage them to take more time over summarising and paraphrasing the notes they posted to Padlet. I think this worked to a certain extent but there again the results for the first session where a little more inquiring. For example there are posts with excerpts from the grading criteria which suggest an attempt to express a sense of what needs be achieved that goes beyond pure description. You can see the final Padlet here:
In my mind, the task was very successful and it achieved what it set out to achieve. Throughout all of the sessions the students were absorbed and it allowed me to problem solve around definitions, interpretations and even ensure all the students had access. One student even commented that they had never read the assessment briefs before and that this was really useful.
If nothing else the students have now read the assessment briefs for the courses I am teaching, they know where to find them for other courses, plus hopefully they have gained a sense of the value of reading them. The use of Padlet also provided a good mechanism for focussing the student’s attention, it included the opportunity to read and comment on each other’s posts and also served to reinforce the information they had gathered through note-taking and then rewriting as they posted a note to Padlet.
I had never used Padlet before. It is a really good tool, very flexible, easy to set up and free (though you do get offers to upgrade). You just register and set up a profile. Then you can open and configure a page and go live within a few minutes. I can imagine using it again in numerous ways as the students really enjoy using it. The fact that you can instantly display their notes, the interactivity, all of this is very useful. Plus you can post the link to the Padlet on the VLE after the class and make all that information available.
If you haven’t already had a play with Padlet I would recommend giving it a go.