Rethinking assignments and feedback

December 3, 2015


One trend in education is larger groups of students. The logical question a lot of our teachers ask is if, and even how they can continue with assignments in courses with more than 60 students. So I had to investigate this in my own course. My curiosity was how much time I had to spend on the assignments, and what would be the pros and cons spending my time on the assignments instead of e.g. lectures.

I’m working as an e-learning coordinator but have the privilege to test all my crazy ideas on “my very own” course. It’s an introduction course called ICT driving license with about 550 students (and three credits that corresponds to around 81 hours work for a student). Traditionally the students had to pass an examination to complete the course. But this year I inserted two assignments and a lighter version of the examination. Fortunately I wouldn’t have to read through all assignments because the objectives were how the students could use different software to create different kinds of documents.

What are the pros and cons?

Let’s start with the cons; it took a lot of time. With two assignments and 550 students I had to assess 1100 uploaded documents. A lot of students had to correct their assignment (even several times) and upload it again. This made me spend even more time on the assignments. But it didn’t take so much time as I thought it would take before I started. After going through some of the documents I had worked out a strategy how to assess the assignments.

One chocking dilemma was that some student had difficulties understanding my well thought out instructions. That I could fix immediately during the course. At the end of the course I had a long check list about what they should observe before they uploaded the assignment.

The pros on the other hand was a little bit surprising. I felt I had much more interaction with each students especially those who really needed more help. I could give feedback on what they did wrong, what they needed to think about and where they could find more help solving their problems. At the same time the students could ask me questions, either when they uploaded the assignment or in the discussion forum.

Was it worth it?

My answer is yesish (more yes than no). If you think of an assignment as a way of learning instead of some kind of evaluation, then all work spent on it was rewarding. In my case the assignments were more or less a process where the students, with self-directed learning and in interaction with their teacher, could gain more knowledge and skills about the content. But the crucial point is the feedback and interaction that could help the student to proceed. The student always knew where to find help with their assignment.

Question: My experience to study with the assignments was (265 respondents)

Question: My experience to study with the assignments was (265 respondents)

Best of all, the student really liked it (as you can see in the chart). Even if some of the students thought it was rather difficult, they appreciated working with the assignments. Some of them had to struggle more other less, but at the end they all had learned something.

Quotes from the survey

”You had to read the material, and after having completed the assignments you really had learned a lot of new things” – student

”Close interaction was very good part of the assignments” – student

“The assignments were really good to learn from properly, especially for those who otherwise only would have started to study the night before the examination” – student