In order for students to be able to do well in
assessments they need to fully understand what you are asking them
to do (the task) and the standards required (Marking criteria).
A good way to do this is to set aside time in
class to discuss and work through the assessment brief, criteria
and some examples of students’ work. These opportunities should be
an integral and seamless part of course design and the learning
process. (See O’Donovan, 2004; O’Donovan et al . 2008; Sambell et
al., 2006; Sadler, 2009).
These activities provide the trigger for
students to talk through their understanding and application
of the criteria. They can compare the grades they awarded
with reference to the criteria, and discuss the things they still
don’t get. It also gives useful info to the tutor about the clarity
and appropriateness of the assignment so that they can clarify and
improve the brief and criteria.
Students find the support of their peers
really important to their understanding and enjoyment of their
studies. Peer support networks emerge naturally among friends but
some students find it difficult to join in or set up their own
networks because of their personal circumstances. Peer
support networks that are engineered through modules and programmes
can help to ensure that all students can benefit from peer support
whether face to face or virtual. Virtual discussion boards and
online forums, through which students can discuss what is expected
of an assignment as well as give and receive advice and feedback,
are becoming more common in courses (for examples of these see
Brett & Cousin, 2010 and Heinrich et al., 2009). However, you
need to set or negotiate the ground rules for inclusive and
collaborative learning behaviour that include trust, respect
and equality. You need to be established these
rules early and maintain them throughout the module to prevent
exclusionary practices (see Hughes 2007 and 2010).
We know that students who are confident
learners seek out and access opportunities for formative
feedback. Others who have less self-confidence and who may
feel uncertain about their academic work, do not always take these
opportunities. Yorke (2003) argues that by making formative
assessment a compulsory element, and not an option, all students
get equal opportunity for feedback on their work without the fear
of failure. Another way of developing students’ understanding of
and involvement in the assessment process is to allow self and peer
assessment. Recommended for mainly ‘low stakes’ assessment (Sambell
and Hubbard 2004). A low stakes assessment might be one
that does not count towards the final degree, or whose
weighting is very low, say, 20% of the overall
mark. Peer and self assessment not only increases
students understanding of assessment, it develops autonomous
learners, confident in approaching staff for clarification and
Have a look at these examples of how students give feedback to
one another using technology:
The way we write the assignment brief is crucial to the
performance of our students. Please refer to How to write a good
Brett, P & Cousin, G. (2011) Students as
Partners in Blended Learning. Journal of Learning Development
in Higher Education. 3
Heinrich, E., Milne, J., Ramsay, A., &
Morrison, D. (2009). Recommendations for the use of e-tools for
improvements around assignment marking quality Assessment &
Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(4), 469 — 479.
Hughes, G. (2007). Diversity, identity and
belonging in e-learning communities: some theories and paradoxes.
Teaching in Higher Education, 12(5-6), 709-720.
Hughes, G. (2010). Identity and belonging in
social learning groups: the importance of distinguishing social,
operational and knowledge-related identity congruence. .
British Educational Research Journal, 36(1), 47-64.
O’Donovan, B., Price, M., & Rust, C.
(2004). Know what I mean? Enhancing student understanding of
assessment standards and criteria Teaching in Higher
Education, 9, , 9, 325-335.
O'Donovan, B., Price, M., & Rust, C.
(2008). Developing student understanding of assessment
standards: a nested hierarchy of approaches Teaching in Higher
Education, 13(2), 205 - 217.
Sambell, K., McDowell, L., & Sambell, A.
(2006). Supporting diverse students: developing learner autonomy
via assessment. In C. Bryan & K. Clegg (Eds.), Innovative
assessment in higher education (pp. 158-168). London, New
Yorke, M. (2003). Formative assessment in
higher education: moves towards theory and the enhancement of
pedagogic practice. Higher Education, 45, 477-501.
For more information about this topic and
inclusive learning and teaching in HE generally you may be
interested in participating in the HEA/JISC funded online module
Learning to Teach Inclusively. See project website
for more details www.wlv.ac.uk/teachinclusively.
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