Developing the Scientific Reporting Skills of Chemistry Students through Dialogic Assessment-Feedback Cycles and use of Journal Articles as Paradigms of Professional Practice

Case study author: Dr David McGarvey

School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences

CDF Framework: Authentic Assessment

Project Summary

The development of students’ scientific reporting skills is a ubiquitous feature of the curriculum in physical sciences degree courses. This work focuses on the design of an assessment-feedback strategy to support development of these skills by 1st year undergraduate chemistry students, employing peer-reviewed chemistry journal articles as authentic contexts exemplifying professional standards and conventions. A key feature is provision of a dedicated curriculum space, which supports a series of iterative assessment-feedback cycles incorporating dialogic assessment and feedback workshops and students’ use of feedback. The overall strategy is informed by recent scholarhsip and research on feedback in higher education, particularly in terms of ‘old paradigm’ versus ‘new paradigm’ thinking.

As an integral feature of higher education, assessment and feedback has a powerful influence on learning and achievement both positively and negatively (Hattie and Timperley, 2007). Consequently, assessment and feedback is a long-standing source of contention and some dissatisfaction amongst students and educators (Nicol, 2010). Students express dissatisfaction about aspects of assessment and feedback, such as assessment guidance and marking criteria, timeliness and the quality and quantity of feedback. Educators express frustration about the time taken to provide detailed feedback to large numbers of students, only for many of them to pay little attention to it. Both parties tread a well-worn path leading to an accumulation of ‘feedback waste’!

Dissatisfaction with assessment and feedback perhaps reflects the diversity of literacies amongst students and educators about assessment and feedback (McConlogue, 2020), and the conflicting perceptions of the roles and responsibilities of students and educators in assessment and feedback processes (Winstone et al, 2017a, 2017b; Winstone and Boud, 2019; Winstone, Pitt and Nash, 2020). This dissatisfaction may be exacerbated by national satisfaction surveys (e.g. the UK National Student Survey (NSS)), which implicitly portray students as passive recipients of educators’ actions in relation to assessment and feedback.

It is within this context of the rethinking of feedback processes in higher education that we have evolved our approach to the teaching of scientific reporting skills to undergraduate chemistry students over a period of approximately eight years.

Indications of the effectiveness of our approach are reflected in strong student engagement, including that

>90% of students access online teacher feedback,

>80% report they use feedback to improve their work,

>75% include use of feedback statements (these are optional) with their submitted assessments,

>75% submit draft work (also optional) in advance of assessment/feedback workshops and

>75% of students report that they have found it useful to see how their peers have approached assessment tasks.

We find that students show good engagement with the associated learning activities and some students produce work that evidences acquisition of reporting skills to a high standard for early undergraduate students.

The work has been disseminated at various Higher Education conferences and via two publications. A poster presentation at the international AHE Conference in Manchester in 2019 attracted 2nd prize.

Kizzy Beaumont (now a co-author) of KIITE states: 'It is nice to see the different stages you go through in Chemistry to support the students with their lab reports. I really like the fact you use ones written by yourselves as well, it adds to that connection with the information and acknowledgement of real-life situations. Using the articles also naturally supports their understanding of how to read and synthesise information from those types of literature as well as improve their level of scientific language'

The generic aspects of our approach are adaptable and transferrable to other higher education contexts and academic disciplines. Implementing a curriculum approach to assessment and feedback requires substantial investment in design and development of assessment and feedback processes. From our experiences, we suggest the following as pre-requisites for successful implementation of such an approach: A team of educators with shared understanding of curriculum aims Authenticity and activities that are directed towards programme level outcomes Dedicated curriculum space for meaningful student-student and student-teacher dialogic exchanges.

Advance HE: Assessment Symposium Developing the Scientific Reporting Skills of Chemistry Students