Dr Matthias Dilling, Department of Politics, Philosophy, and IR
This post shares my experiences in seeking to foster significant learning and academic integrity through non-standard assessment formats in my Parliamentary Studies module. Parliamentary Studies is an optional final-year module available on various BA programs at Swansea’s Department of Politics, Philosophy, and International Relations (PPIR). Being taught in cooperation with the UK Parliament’s Education Team, the module combines guest speaker talks and a field trip to Westminster with an emphasis on active learning and small-group activities.
As part of conversations within PPIR around the value of non-standard assessment formats, I introduced the following changes to the module’s assessments when becoming convenor in 2022. Previously, the module was assessed through a take-home exam (50%) and a draft submission to a House of Commons select committee inquiry (50%). I reduced the latter’s weighting and replaced the take-home exam with a draft Wikipedia article and a recorded presentation (table below).
|Assessment format||% of module mark||Learning outcomes||Deadline
Draft Wikipedia article
|25%||1, 2||27 October
(Th, Wk. 4)
Draft submission to a House of Commons select committee inquiry
|45%||2, 3, 4, 5||08 December
(Th, Wk., 10)
|30%||3, 4, 5||18 January 2023|
- For the Wikipedia article, students could choose between creating a new article of approx. 1,250 words and expanding an existing article by the same length. Students were free to choose their topic as long as it related to the module content of the first three weeks and met Wikipedia’s article criteria. Rather than making online edits on Wikipedia, students were asked to submit their draft via Turnitin.
- The second assignment provided students with an opportunity to practice researching and writing for Parliament by drafting a written evidence submission to a House of Commons select committee inquiry (approx. 2,250 words). Students were free to choose an inquiry from the list of inquiries that accepted submissions at that time and had a closing date after the assignment’s submission deadline as long as they adhered to Parliament’s guidance for written evidence submissions.
- Politics in and around the UK Parliament has generated numerous questions and debates about some of the most important challenges and opportunities of our time. In the final assessment, students were asked to select ONE question among a list of such questions and prepare a 10-minute recorded presentation proposing and defending their answer.
I wanted to make these changes for several reasons. 1) The move from two to three pieces of coursework aimed to move toward a more continuous approach to assessment in order to identify and address bottlenecks early (Middendorf and Pace, 2004: 4-5), enhance in-course feedback to support student learning (Molloy and Boud, 2013), and assess the learning outcomes at lower levels of Bloom’s revised taxonomy before moving toward more sophisticated tasks (Anderson et al., 2001). 2) The Wikipedia assessment built on a platform students tended to be deeply familiar with to facilitate reflection on core assessment criteria that are relevant for many assignments beyond this particular module. By engaging students with the platform’s criteria for new articles, this assessment aimed to introduce students to notions of originality/novelty, relevance, referencing, and research rigor that are relevant for many types of coursework at a stage where such assessments tend to become particularly prominent and impactful for their final classification (e.g. dissertation). It thus aimed to enhance students’ understanding of assessment criteria and empower them in the self-assessment of their work. 3) By providing the option to (support students in revising their work in order to) publish their article on Wikipedia and/or submit their report to their chosen select committee inquiry, I wanted to facilitate a sense of ownership and agency over their assignments and support significant learning by making students reflect on their work’s societal contributions (Fink, 2013). 4) The recorded presentation aimed to capture the learning outcomes previously assessed through an exam while empowering students in enhancing their employability by producing output that evidences communication and IT skills often sought after by employers. 5) The recorded presentation also aimed to enhance inclusivity by providing a non-written asynchronous assessment and thereby further recognizing special learning requirements such as dyslexia.
The new assessment format resulted in concrete benefits.
1) The move from two to three modules reduced the pressure on individual assessments and facilitated assessment-to-assessment learning. At the end of the feedback for each assignment, I included 1-2 specific action points that I particularly encouraged students to consider when working on the next assignment. Conversations during office hours and assessing students’ subsequent work have suggested that this helped create opportunities for students to reflect on feedback and make adjustments to their work process.
2) By dissecting how and for which sentences authors on Wikipedia included references, this assignment proved highly effective in sharpening students’ engagement with academic integrity. I was amazed by the great care students took in properly referencing their sources and the critical reflection some students articulated with regard to what constitutes a suitable source.
3) The new assessments were also useful in fostering an understanding of academic work as contributing to knowledge. Especially the Wikipedia article and the select committee inquiry submission required students to reflect on why and how their work would contribute to and expand on what we already knew about a topic. For the Wikipedia article, they needed to reflect on why their topic would meet Wikipedia’s originality and relevance criteria if they chose to write a new article or visualize (e.g. through track-changes) where and how they contributed to an already existing article. For the select committee submission, students were required to maintain a clear focus on the objectives of the inquiry and reflect on why and how their selected material constituted suitable evidence to respond to these objectives.
4) The use of the recorded presentation also proved effective in building confidence in students who, by their own sharing, had found presentations very challenging in the past. Arguably, this format was also useful as a self-assessment tool since talking through one’s own argument is often an effective technique to evaluate its focus and consistency, and all presentations, while differing in the depth of their analysis and use of evidence, maintained a clear focus and were coherent in their argument throughout.
5) The new assessment types were also highly popular. Student feedback has often highlighted that students appreciate assessment types that do not have the standard essay- or exam-format. The newly introduced assessment formats were praised by students throughout the module and, from correspondence, seemed to attract students to the module in the first place. All this plausibly contributed to very positive attainments. Almost 90 percent of students achieved a 2.1 mark. No student failed. At the same time, an average mark of 63 with a standard deviation of 6.6 suggests the new assessment formats did not result in the often-discussed grade inflation. The module achieved a satisfaction score of 4.9/5.0.
What take-aways can be derived from this experience? Traditional assessment forms certainly have their place in higher education, but this experience has reminded me of the value of “mixing things up” at times. The new assessment formats facilitated conversations in the classroom that highlighted that assessments are not box-ticking exercises. They can be used to produce something that is valuable – for us in higher education as well as for the world more broadly.
Anderson, L.W., D.R. Krathwohl, P.W. Airasian, K.A. Cruikshank, R.E. Mayer, P.R. Pintrich, J. Raths & M.C. Wittrock (2001) A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.
Fink, L. D. (2013): Creating Significant Learning Experiences. An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Middendorf, J. & D. Pace (2004) “Decoding the Disciplines. A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking.” New Directions for Teaching & Learning 98(Summer): 1-12.
Molloy, E. & D. Boud (2013) “Changing Conceptions of Feedback.” In Feedback in Higher and Professional Education. Understanding it and Doing it Well, eds. D. Boud & E. Molloy. London: Routledge, 11-33.
 I provided scaffolding on how to select a topic by discussing Wikipedia’s criteria for new articles and sharing the list of “stub”-class and “start”-class articles. Students were required to confirm their selected topic with me by the end of Week 2. I also provided guidance on how to respond if a new article on their selected topic was published before students submitted their assignment.
 I owe this assessment format to a previous convenor of the module.
 I provided scaffolding on how to approach this work via the module guide, in-class discussions, and office hours.
 Throughout the semester, we built a toolkit that students could use when approaching analytical questions in the study of the UK Parliament. We repeatedly put this toolkit to work in various class activities. Further support included a Q&A in Week 11 and technical guidance on how to create and submit their recording.