On assesments and feedback

Today (3.12.2018), the whole morning was spent on assessment and feedback – tricky topics indeed. The pre-given instruction seemed rather complex at first. To be honest, the two articles we were required to read, both coming from a discipline I am not at all familiar with, were filled with weird concepts and thought patterns that initially seemed almost incomprehensible and, for a second, made me think that they had to be some kind of a demonstration of what academic English can seem from an outsiders perspective.

The articles were about assessing written tasks and on offering feedback. This, and especially the assessment has always been quite hard for me. I am aware of Bloom’s taxonomy and such aids but my own field, political science, often seems much more like a form of art to me. It is not an exact ”science” in any way, and for me, even the academic theories and philosophies of politics are much more about the rhetorical and argumentative quality. The theories and their arguments can be seen as forms of politics in themselves. As a teacher and a pseudo-thinker of politics then, I tend to accept (almost) all kinds of differing views as valid as long as they are argued well.

Again, the group discussion was very fruitful and my group members had developed various innovative and interesting written assessments for their courses. Me, coming from the traditional, amphitheatre style of lecturing of the humanities, felt like an ancient relic with my lecture diary. But, being bombarded with these new methods during the whole TACE has been and eye opening experience. It has made me think again and again how I could develop my own courses.

On assessments we touched on the subject of the grades. I argued against the pass/fail -style of assessments for two reasons. First, I think it is unjust, since the ones who ”bust their asses” and the ones who are there simply for the credits may get the same result. This is especially complicated if a course is heavily based on group work and the lazy members of a group can pass the course with the help of the others. From this it follows that the grades have an important incentivizing effect: they will encourage everybody (whether individually or as a group) for working hard and for maximizing their learning. Taking an analogy from political sciences: The Soviet Union failed exactly because work was not incentivized, and both the free-riders and the hard-workers of the society ended up having the same, lousy benefits.

A member of my group argued that perhaps the feedback from the teacher could work as an incentive for the student. Well, maybe in a really small and intimate setting, but in a mass lecture type of a course, with one hundred attendees, a truly deep and instructive feedback would hardly be possible.

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