10 April 2010

On getting others to mark student work

It's not just call-centres now--the linked piece is about how a professor in Texas is out-sourcing the marking of assignments to India. She and the entrepreneurs running the service in India make a good case; her teaching assistants are not trained or even skilled enough to mark, she has enrolments of up to 1,000 students, and each of them produce 5,000 words... It facilitates using essays, projects and report--free-text writing--rather than computer-marked multiple-choice and short-answer questions. The students get a faster turn-around, too.

But what I found particularly interesting were the comments--81 of them when I last looked--which are overwhelmingly hostile. The first two pick up on a major shortcoming, which is that while the students may be getting good feedback, the professor is not getting the feedback about their understanding she would if she actually read at least a sample herself.

I have mentioned before the work of John Hattie (here) and discussed it (currently being revised) here. I'm currently reading--indeed, I have even bought--his excellent Visible Learning... London; Routledge 2009. His syntheses of meta-analyses has lead him to emphasise the importance of feedback / formative assessment / "assessment for learning" etc., but;
...one of the major results presented in this book relates to increasing the amount of feedback because it is an important correlate of student achievement. However, one should not immediately start providing more feedback and then await the magical increases in achievement. [...] increasing the amount of feedback in order to have a positive effect on student achievement requires a change in the conception of what it means to be a teacher; it is the feedback to the teacher about what students can and cannot do that is more powerful than feedback to the student, and it necessitates a different way of interacting and respecting students  [...].  [...] It is important to be concerned about the climate of the classroom before increasing the amount of feedback (to the student or teacher) because it is critical to ensure that "errors" are welcomed, as they are key levers for enhancing learning. It is critical to have appropriately challenging goals as then the amount and directedness of feedback is maximized. Simply applying a recipe (e.g.,"providing more feedback") will not work in our busy, multifaceted, culturally invested, and changing classrooms. (Hattie, 2009 p.4; emphases added)
One of the limitations of end-of-module assessment is that this information arrives too late to use it for the current cycle (and the next one may be different) but it is streets ahead of no such information; and although it may have received little direct attention as you sit and plough your way through interminable assignments, its message is quite likely to have got through.

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