Buying in buy-in

After a very pleasant Christmas and New Year – marred only by over-eating on my part – we’re back in the saddle here, although our students now have four weeks of revision/exams before we start our new semester in February, so it’s a still rather quiet time.

Today is the deadline for the reflective portfolio that is the sole piece of assessment for my negotiating politics module.  In the UK, because of the quality assurance systems we have to use, formal assessment is subject to both internal second-marking (by another member of faculty) and external marking (by faculty from another university), to ensure national parity of grading.  This has meant that there is a strong pressure towards a small number of pieces of assessment for any given module, not least because more pieces also often means more regression to the mean, so a lot of the micro-assessments (as I’d see them) that we’ve seen discussed on this blog have not been viable options for me to use.

However, this doesn’t mean I can’t work quite flexibly within my one piece of assessment.  As I’ve noted in previous postings, I’ve set informal formative pieces of work to help students get into the reflective mode and, more importantly, I’ve talked consistently since October about the way in which the assessment can most simply be completed by working on it throughout the taught sessions, little and often.  Particularly for a subject such as this, timely reflection is essential.  Much as I’d love all my students to want to engage for the love of the subject, I’m enough of a realist to know that doesn’t always happen, so incentivising behaviour that works towards my goals is a key strategy.

My problem is this.  In the past week, I’ve had more queries about the portfolio than in the past two months (i.e. after the introductory session for the module).  This suggests two things: firstly, that in some cases students have left their work until the last moment, and secondly, that my incentivising hasn’t been incentivising enough.  Neither of these statements will cause too much surprise to anyone, but still it rankles that people don’t always choose the path of least resistance.

With this in mind, I’m going to be going back to the drawing board on assessment.  In particular, once I’ve marked the portfolios, I’ll be looking at the grades to see if any of the various things I tried through the semester can be picked up, in terms of improved (or worsened) performance.  Then I will have to decide whether having an intermediate submission point during the semester might be a helpful device in encouraging students to get work when they might best be able to the most out of their reflection.