Misson Impossible

An image of a blackboard with the word Feedback written in chalkSALT Seminar Prof Danny McCaroll’s Mission Impossible:

photograph of Prof D. McCarrollThe Misson: Teach practical classes on statistical techniques to a cohort of 240 very mixed-ability First Year students, ensuring that they receive both formative feedback and continual assessment. 

On Wednesday this week Professor Danny McCarroll, College of Science, explained how he approached his “mission impossible” and reflected on some of the advantages and disadvantages of the method he employed.

Here is the outline of Professor McCarroll’s session:

With numbers like this, traditional approaches to assessment are not feasible. Any piece of assessment that takes just ten minutes to mark and provide feedback costs 40 hours of solid marking. It is hardly surprising that, with such large class sizes, we do not tend to score well on providing timely feedback! With help from SALT, I have adopted a new approach to teaching this module that is centred on Blackboard tests. They are a very efficient way of performing continual assessment, because the marking is automatic and the marks go straight into Grademark. However, there is a danger of over-assessment, and of assessing the students on things that they have not been taught of have not had time to learn. To counter this problem, and to make the learning more student centred, I have adopted a ‘learning ladder’ approach where a series of linked ‘quizzes’ are used to guide student learning. The short ‘quizzes’ are not assessed, they are designed to help the students to learn and to provide instant detailed feedback. However, each quiz must be completed and a target score achieved before the student can proceed. At the end of each ‘learning ladder,’ there is an assessed test. Setting this system up, and preparing all of the tests, was a lot of work but it is MUCH better than all those hours of tedious marking. The student response has been largely positive and the marks for the course are excellent but strongly skewed, with a high proportion of First Class marks but a ‘tail’ of poor marks for students who did not fully engage.

You can watch the whole seminar on the link below.


Support and information pertaining to the tests mentioned in the seminar can be found at https://salt.swan.ac.uk/the-blackboard-test-canvas/

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