Thursday 30 May 2013

Students getting feedback

I’ve finished my marking and moderating now. What a relief! But no, it doesn’t get quieter now that the semester has finished, even when that’s done.  There are the exam boards, getting ready for next year, countless meetings and training sessions, conferences and if you’re lucky a little research. You may even take some leave though it’s often difficult to fit in the thirty-two days to which we are entitled or find a time when you’re not going to miss something crucial. And of course, there’s the students’ reaction to how you’ve marked their work to be dealt with.  

Using an effective moderation system

Naturally, some are disappointed. That is why we have a moderation system that works really well if applied rigorously. And we do apply it firmly. The moderator is someone who has not taught on the module but who will understand the issues. They must sample ten scripts from groups of up to a hundred. If there are 101 scripts they must sample twenty and so on. Sometimes it’s more; for instance if several people have taught on the module, if there are several marks that border classes and if the marker signals a concern. The moderator tends to look at the highest, the lowest, middle of each class and borderline grades. Later an external examiner also looks at the sample.
We’re normally pretty spot on. However, it can be established that a marker has:
  1. Generally marked too high
  2. Generally marked too low
  3. Bunched the marks together too much
  4. Spread the marks too much
  5. Been completely erratic  
Adjustments can be made easily for 1-4. 5 signals a complete remark. Fortunately that has never happened. I can think of just one case where all marks were put up.     


We do this quite informally. We’ll look at each other’s marking as we go along if we have questions about our own. We can even ask a colleague to look at a script we’re concerned about. As the students submit electronically, we can view their work from anywhere in the world and at any time of day. Now, we’re not recommending that someone works 24/7 and leaves the beach whilst on holiday, but this can even save a walk to another corridor. As at this time of the year we’re rarely all in the same building at the same time, this is an extremely handy feature.

How students get their results

They pick these up electronically. In the old days they used to have to come to our offices and pick up the hard copy. We and probably a lot of their friends would see them get their results. This isn’t too bad if it’s good news. It can be devastating if the news isn’t so good. And awkward if two friends come together to receive substantially different marks. At least now they can contemplate their results in privacy.

How students react

There is always a first, emotional reaction.  Then there is a more reasoned one. When I release my marks I tell students to get in contact if there are any questions about their work. I always make sure, however, that I don’t see them until at least forty-eight hours after they’ve seen their mark though I may agree to the appointment within ten minutes. This gives them a little distance from the result before we discuss it.   
I do like a face to face contact for this. Emails can go on for ever and may miss the point. We can look at the work together. If that’s absolutely impossible – and often it is at the end of the second semester – the student may be several thousand miles away – I’ll talk to them on the phone with both of us looking at the submission. I’ll have to explain exactly why I’ve awarded which mark to the different aspects of the task and what my comments mean. I may expand on them a little.

Results not negotiable

Because we are rigorous in our moderation and because we marked anyway to a finely pinpointed set of grade descriptors the result must stand and the student cannot negotiate.  However, we sometimes find there is a technical issue that can allow some leniency. Sometimes a student may not be able to attach drafts and may have sent them separately and the marker has forgotten. There is, of course some responsibility to be taken here by the student.  It’s always possible to attach drafts. Hard-pressed lecturers may not remember every single email. The submission process may have screwed the formatting. One year, the system took out all of the italics of one student so it looked as if she hadn’t referenced correctly. If they use anything but Word, formatting is not supported. They can submit a PDF but neither we nor they were aware of this problem when the system screwed the originally correct formatting of fifty scripts .  
However, the adjustments that we make in these circumstance are anyway only of three or four marks. They are also very rare.
A student may appeal after they have their official transcript but appeals are generally unsuccessful because the moderation system is used effectively.   

Summative and formative feedback

We do give both, even on final year final semester assessments. After all, any script that does not have 100% must be flawed in some way. We like to keep pushing our students higher. I have a student who attained 75% coming to see me on Monday. She’s keen to carry on with her novel. I commented on the voice. On Monday we’re going to sit and look at her submission together and work out how she can make the voice sound more young adult.        

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