Professor Claire Wallace, School of Social Science

European Societies is a fourth year option attracting 20 - 35 students, traditionally assessed by 40% essay and 60% exam. This encouraged students to read only for the topics they presented and needed for the exam. 

Context

European Societies is a fourth year option attracting 20 - 35 students, traditionally assessed by 40% essay and 60% exam. This encouraged students to read only for the topics they presented and needed for the exam. This meant that a. most students were not prepared for seminars b. they engaged with only a limited part of the course c. some students suffered significant exam stress d. I had to try to read a pile of illegible exam scripts at the end of the year - not the best way to assess students.

Activity

I introduced the "mini essay". Each week students wrote a one page essay, referring to the set readings. These were uploaded as a discussion thread on MyAberdeen. All essays were marked each week before the seminar. The format of the mini essay encouraged students to keep to the point and make analytical comments concisely. It forced them to read every week for the seminar topic (which made for better seminar discussions). Peer learning was encouraged by all essays and comments being visible to everyone. A compilation of 6 best mini essays counted for 50% of course marks.

Evaluation

Essays were marked each week with feedback replies as to how their essays could be improved and whether they were getting better. Student feedback "This is the only course where I read all the readings". a. they all prepared thoroughly for each seminar b. they did not have to do unseen exams (which some find stressful) c. they were able to improve their writing style with feedback d. they learned to turn out meaningful pieces of work quickly and succinctly and d. they were able to see what peers were doing so the whole process was completely transparent.

Impact

The overall standard of work on the course improved because of the opportunity to improve the mini essays as they went along following feedback and seminar discussions. Student satisfaction was higher. Seminars were better because all students had prepared. Student engagement with the course improved. Writing skills improved. This kind of exercise better reflects real world situations in which they might find themselves Since this is the first year that this has run it has not yet been adopted by others.

Dissemination

I am hoping to disseminate this initiative through the Principal's Teaching Excellence Award. I have told colleagues in the school about my work in meetings. I am happy to disseminate this style of teaching and assessment more widely