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13. Coursework


									Chapter 13                                                                                 Coursework

                                 13. Coursework

13.1 COURSEWORK REQUIREMENTS                        can be thoroughly confusing for students, so it
                                                    is very important indeed that the precise
Students should be informed of all coursework       submission requirements are crystal clear in
requirements at the start of a course. For large    course documentation and that the penalties for
classes, with inputs from many teaching staff, it   failure to meet these requirements are clearly
is equally important to ensure that everyone        specified. All this will probably need to be
knows what is expected of them in terms of the      reinforced orally on multiple occasions.
setting and marking of students’ work. It is also
important that teaching staff agree on and are      It is important that students are also clear about
clear about the overall pattern of coursework,      arrangements for requesting extensions,
including such things as essay length, criteria     whether on grounds of illness or for other
for assessment, style of feedback to students and   reasons, from family funerals to job interviews.
so on.                                              Some disabled students may require flexibility
                                                    with submission deadlines throughout a course,
13.2 SUBMISSION OF COURSEWORK                       and it is helpful to establish this from the start.
                                                    It may be important to indicate the limits of
Secretarial staff are often centrally involved in   acceptable grounds for seeking extensions (for
the collection of coursework from students.         example, some departments will not allow
Substantial items such as dissertations may be      extensions for such things as computer
signed in and receipted. Smaller items, such as     breakdowns). Health or welfare problems may
short essays, practicals and so on may be           be communicated directly by the student or via
deposited in a box or a pigeon-hole overseen        the student’s director of studies. If in doubt
by secretarial staff. In some departments a         about representations made by individual
system of electronic submission exists, recording   students, contact the director of studies. In some
the date and time of students’ submissions. This    instances, medical certificates may be
may also facilitate the assessment of work in       forthcoming, but these cannot be expected in all
cases where the assignment is a computer            cases (as the University Health Centre makes
program. It is important that the submission        clear).
procedure is clear to all concerned. In large
classes there are always problematic cases of one   Course organisers are responsible for informing
kind or another, and the course organiser needs     directors of studies about students who fail to
to be confident of the submission procedures in     submit work or who are not performing
the event of appeals against penalties for late     satisfactorily. Systems must be in place to ensure
submission or non-submission.                       that such students are identified quickly. If a
                                                    database is used to keep a record of student
Different departments have different practices      submissions, it is possible to automatically
with regard to work submitted late without          generate messages to students and to staff in
permission. Some allow a period of grace;           cases where work is late, or not submitted.
others do not. Some deduct marks for late work,
often on a progressive basis, whether per day       For most first and second year courses, students
or per week; others refuse to accept work after     must complete specified coursework
the given deadline. As well as variations           requirements in order to secure a DP (see chapter
between departments, there may be variations        16). Course organisers should be familiar with
within departments between levels of study and      the DP procedures that operate in all relevant
between coursework and degree work. All this        faculties (the regulations depend upon the

A Manual for Course Organisers                                                                    107
Assessment                                                                                       Part V

faculty in which the student concerned is            matriculation numbers and for dealing with
registered). If DPs are to be refused, formal        mistakes in matriculation numbers as
warnings must be issued in good time, in order       appropriate. The issue of anonymous marking
to meet faculty regulations.                         for students with dyslexia/disabilities who
                                                     have been granted special concessions (e.g. the
13.3 MARKING COURSEWORK                              instruction to disregard spelling inaccuracies)
                                                     has not been fully resolved. Students may have
Marking is probably the task teachers like least.
                                                     to forgo anonymity in order to benefit from
Just as students are encouraged to write             concessions, and individual solutions may need
purposefully, so markers should be encouraged        to be sought in some cases.
to bear in mind the purposes of their time-
consuming and laborious work. Most broadly,          Course organisers will generally be responsible
marking fulfils two functions, as follows.           for collecting marks from markers and for
                                                     collating marks at the end of the class.
a. Marking provides an evaluation of students’
                                                     Computer spreadsheets may be very useful
   performance. Very often, this takes the form
   of a quantitative or qualitative judgement
   about the merit of an item of work. Such          The timing and method by which work is
   judgements should usually be made using           returned to students merits some thought. The
   the University’s Common Marking Scheme.           return of work often generates a good deal of
   In some instances the judgement may take          excitement among students. It is worth
   the simpler form of a decision as to whether      considering whether this excitement can be put
   or not an item of work is ‘satisfactory’. This    to good use during a teaching session or
   evaluation may be for communication to the        whether it is better released after a teaching
   student and/or to examiners.                      session. Decisions also need to be made about
b. Marking provides a mechanism for feedback         whether students are to be encouraged to
   to students. This often takes the form of         discuss feedback with each other, with tutors
   supplementing marks within written                or with lecturers, and mechanisms need to be
   comments about an item of work. Such              in place accordingly. It is important to ensure
   comments should be aimed at encouraging           that the interests of those who have performed
   the student to improve the quality of his/her     badly are considered as well as those who have
   work. Consequently, the form the comments         performed well.
   take may vary considerably during a class
   and at different levels of study.                 13.4 PROJECTS AND DISSERTATIONS
Markers must be clear about the criteria on          Many degree curricula, especially masters and
which their evaluations are to be based.             honours degree curricula, include dissertations
Increasingly, these criteria are incorporated into   and/or other major projects. In most cases, one
student handouts.                                    of the key aims of these items of work is to
                                                     provide an opportunity for students to work
Whether marked work is to be returned to             independently. Instead of working within the
students or transmitted to examiners, it may be      structures of a taught course, they must organise
appropriate to adopt forms on which different        their own effort and make their own decisions
aspects of evaluation and or feedback can be         about how to tackle problems and possibilities.
incorporated. Again, there are many examples         However, if students are to make use of such
of such forms in circulation.                        opportunities effectively, they must be provided
                                                     with appropriate guidance. This guidance
Course organisers need to make or implement
                                                     usually takes three inter-related forms, as
decisions about double marking, moderation
and the calibration of marks.
                                                     • projects and dissertations are usually the
Course organisers also need to consider whether
                                                       subject of substantial handouts, which
or not particular items of coursework should be
                                                       provide full details of the expectations of
marked anonymously. If so, students will need
                                                       students and the requirements of the project
to be given appropriate instructions and
                                                       or dissertation (most departments have such
arrangements need to be in place for decoding
                                                       documents and update them annually);

108                                                                      A Manual for Course Organisers
Chapter 13                                                                               Coursework

• briefing sessions for the whole group of         providing undergraduates with advisors. While
  students are often provided at the start of a    a number of departments declare that the onus
  project or dissertation, and sometimes at key    is on students to contact their supervisors/
  points during the period allowed for             advisors for guidance, few departments are
  preparation; documentation relating to the       entirely passive about this. Some departments
  project or dissertation is usually circulated    require students and supervisors to meet in
  at the first briefing session;                   small groups at intervals throughout the period
• students undertaking projects or                 over which the project is undertaken. However,
  dissertations are generally provided with        there are considerable variations in the extent
  advisers or supervisors whose role is to         to which departments provide explicit
  provide individual guidance.                     structures for supervision or ‘chase’ students to
                                                   meet with supervisors regularly. It is also clear
Arrangements for the selection of topics vary      that considerable variations may exist within
between departments. In the Faculty of Social      departments.
Sciences, several departments provide students
with a list of topics from which to choose, with   Supervision is deliberately minimal in several
provision for students to choose their own topic   departments in the Faculty of Arts. Most
provided either that they can find a supervisor    students chose their own topic and submit it to
or that the department approves their topic.       the head of department for approval. If there is
Other departments require students to select       duplication, or if no member of staff has the
their own topic and supervisor/advisor. Still      expertise to supervise and judge the dissertation
other departments require students to select       it might have to be changed. Students appear to
their own topic and then allocate them to a        be more motivated where they have most choice,
supervisor, ensuring roughly equal numbers of      and so it is good policy to allow them as much
students for each member of staff. Whichever       choice as possible. However, this needs to be
approach is adopted, the relevant course           balanced with ensuring that the student’s
organiser needs to ensure that the process of      proposal is feasible.
selecting a topic is effectively managed. Where
lists of topics need to be drawn up by staff,      The marking of projects and dissertations is not,
preparation of such a list should begin well in    in principle, any different from other
advance; staff often need to have their memories   coursework. However, it is often rather more
jogged to get project proposal lists in on time.   enjoyable, although this may be offset by the
                                                   time pressures associated with marking in the
There are also considerable variations in          run-up to, or during the June diet of
arrangements for the guidance, advice and          examinations. Markers are often asked to
supervision of dissertations. While most           produce short reports or to complete pro-formas
departments provide students with supervisors,     which may provide the basis for subsequent
one department distinguishes between               mark reconciliation or which may be sent to
‘supervisors’ and ‘advisors’, reserving the        external examiners.
former for research postgraduates and

A Manual for Course Organisers                                                                 109
Assessment                           Part V

110          A Manual for Course Organisers

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