Dr Natasha Danilova, School of Social Science, tells us about how she modified the structure and value of assessment for tutorial participation in one of her courses

Below, hear how Dr Danilova responds to some questions about her interesting, innovative teaching practice.


What did you do? I modified the structure and value of assessment for tutorial participation in my Hons option 30-credit course, ‘Soviet Successor States in Global Politics’. Previously, I assessed students’ engagement in tutorials (10% of a total mark) through in-class group presentations using peer assessment, and also via a brief self-reflection statement submitted by each student at the end of the course (up to 250 words). The new structure of assessment (15% of the total course mark) prioritised a self-reflective statement as a main format of the summative assessment for participation in tutorials. Instead of in-class presentations assessed through peer-assessments, students were now asked to contribute weekly to the course forum on MyAberdeen prior to each tutorial, actively participate in in-class discussions and write up to 500 words of the self-reflective statement. I provided guidelines for this self-reflective statement in a course guide and also via MyAberdeen. In these statements, students were asked to comment on four dimensions of tutorial participation, including abilities: (1) to listen to others and respond with relevant arguments, (2) to demonstrate leadership in initiating discussions and taking responsibility in preparing for tutorials by posting critical reflections on each week’s essential reading and current political events, (3) to comment on tutorial attendance and professional relationships with both the course coordinator and other students, (4) to demonstrate a critical and independent thought in both written comments through the course forum on MyAberdeen and oral comments during in-class tutorials. Based on these criteria, students were also asked to assess their own tutorial participation using the CGS scale and informed that their marks would be moderated by the course coordinator in addition to a written feedback on students’ statements.

Why did you do it?



I made this change because of two main reasons. First, I noticed that group presentations had a limited learning value for the final year Hons option students who in their feedbacks prioritised the importance of group discussion and debates. Second, my experience of using peer assessment of in-class group presentations suggested that it could lead to the overall inflation of grades. For example, although most students were able to provide constructive peer feedback, some students struggled with assessing presentations using the CGS scale.

Contrasting with peer assessment, my experience of using self-assessments was overwhelmingly positive. It consistently delivered much better results in terms of facilitating students’ engagement in discussion and fostering critical self-reflection. Moreover, the absolute majority of students were able to adequately grade their own efforts and performance during tutorials with over 65% of grades being confirmed by the course coordinator. Finally, these self-reflective statements gave students the opportunity to reflect on what skills and abilities they would like to develop in the future transforming assessment from being an endpoint of a learning process into a springboard for further independent learning while also giving students ownership over the learning process. Students also used this format as another opportunity to reflect on the providing constructive comments on the further development of the course content. 

How did you develop the idea?



While studying for the PGCert in Teaching & Learning at Aberdeen, I made a specific effort to research the benefits and limitations of peer and self-assessments. This work allowed me to familiarise myself with current scholarly literature in Education while getting more confidence for adopting different formats of assessment. Also, I was inspired to use peer and self-assessments by observing work of other colleagues and consulting with experts from other universities. For example, my decision to utilise self-assessments as the main tool was boosted by the constructive feedback from the External Examiner who noticed that: ‘The self-reflection on seminar performance was enlightening with some students being more candid than others about the relative merits of their effort and ability. It was pleasing to see that you were equally candid when adjusting student marks!’ (Simon Philpott, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, Newcastle University).  

What were the challenges?




I think the main challenge was to convince students to consider self-assessment as an opportunity for constructive reflection on their skills and overall performance, rather than an instrument to ‘punish’ them for what went wrong. To this purpose, I explained that self-assessments would be moderated by the course coordinator and each student would receive a detailed written feedback. Furthermore, as students realised that their weekly posts on the course forum mounted on MyAberdeen also count towards their tutorial participation, many invested more efforts in preparing for tutorials thereby improving their overall tutorial participation and substantially increasing the level of students’ engagement with the subject matter.

What were the benefits to you?



As self-assessments enabled an effective teaching and learning process, they provided me with a unique insight into student learning. In this regard, self-assessment by improving the overall quality of tutorials gave me an opportunity to further developing the course curriculum by building on students observations.

What was the impact on student learning?




Based on my experience and student feedback, using a combination of weekly contributions to the course forum, discussions during in-class tutorials and self-assessments of tutorial participation, provided an opportunity for students to take ownership of the learning process without experiencing peer-pressure. In this instance, peer learning is exercised through students contributing to the course forum, and as each student is able to read/respond to their peer comments prior to tutorials, it creates a more supportive and motivating learning environment.

How did your students evaluate the experience?



Students can use Student Course Evaluation Forms (SCEFs) and email the course coordinator directly. I found that usually students were more candid in their email interaction with me through communication around self-assessment forms. This suggests that students find self-assessment as a supportive form of assessment, which is mutually beneficial for them and me as a lecturer.  

What did your students say? (feedback/comments from students to share?)

‘Posting each week on the forum and having tutorials

discussions that are different but relevant to the lectures, with the aim of achieving a good mark in the

self-evaluation, encouraged me to always participate and be prepared’ (student 1).

‘The assessment (through a policy report, self assessment and ‘seen’ exam) is quite different from courses I have done previously - it was definitely beneficial to do more than just write the standard academic essay. Although it was sometimes challenging to post regularly on the forum, it

encouraged me to read frequently and understand the topics I was studying prior to tutorials. Teaching was also very effective - tutorials were different from usual classes in that they included group discussions, role play, and

also visual aids’ (student 2).

‘The fact that tutorial participation is graded and evaluated I think is something which has possibly made me

engage more throughout class. I have not had this on previous courses but I do think it motivates you more to

engage and contribute when otherwise you may have not been as inclined through either lack of confidence or

lack of reading’ (student 3).

‘I enjoyed the forum, the sense of a small deadline each week was effective in helping me keep on top of the work

load, it helps to engage with other classmates which is also fun, and it requires you to seek out interesting articles which increased my awareness of events happening in post-Soviet states as well as in other parts of the world’ (student 4). 

‘The tutorials were amazing never had so vibrant and intellectually stimulating tutorials. Everybody was

participating and I learned a lot’ (student 5).

What hints/tips do you have for others in the future?

Additional information?

I would suggest considering utilising self-assessments as a teaching and learning tool. To manage student anxieties, it is important to provide some guidelines and support which help explain the benefits of this form of assessment.     

For further information contact:

Natasha Danilova at n.danilova@abdn.ac.uk