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Hand-ins and marking

The School is trying to reduce the amount of summative assessment that students are doing and we are setting and marking.  There are a number of motivations for this. 

  • Students report (e.g. via the recent LEAF report) that they are spending nearly all their non-contact study hours doing marked hand-ins.  This "treadmill of assessment" is not ideal for learning, being narrow and very much focussed on obtaining marks in the short term. It also does not develop students' abilities to study independently. 
  • The School does not have limitless resources of staff or PG tutors.  Currently we receive feedback about marking taking substantially more than alloted times. 

Student time allocation

The SQA standard is that 10 credit points correspond to 100 hours of learning activity.  

Making some allowance for revision and exams, this amounts in standard courses to about 2 hours of unsupervised study for each lecture.  Realistically this is a maximum given the length of semesters. (Mathematics students nationally self-report significantly lower levels.) 

It is recommended to construct a detailed "typical time allocation" for your course and share it with students.  See examples below. 

Tutor time allocation

 Standard courses allow 1 hour of marking per contact hour of workshops.  Group sizes are around 12 in Prehonours and 15 in Honours.  Thus it is assumed that a student script can be marked in 5 and 4 minutes respectively, including providing feedback.  If some workshops have no hand-ins then these figures increase proportionately.   Also, redistribution of tutor effort means that more time may be devoted to marking if the S-S ratio is correspondingly increased. (This model is being used in some courses with computer labs.) 

Suggested mechanisms for reducing marking load

  1. Is your question really necessary?  Try and prune assessments of peripheral questions. 
  2. Transfer some of the onus of checking onto students themselves. (Is much gained by marking a 2x2 eigenvectors calculation beyond what a student could get from comparing with a good model solution?) 
  3.  Consider (at least in the medium term) initiating or increasing the amount of computerised assessment.  
  4. Consider the possibility of low-stakes quizzes.  While a marked question in many cases causes students to find a model and copy it without worrying about understanding, a quiz requires students to think about their gaps in their learning and address them.  (Quizzes can be multiple choice.  We have some rather good scratchcards for doing these in class.)
  5. Consider carefully whether it is an efficient use of resources setting marked handins with a timing that means that the feedback is unlikely to be collected by the majority of the class in time to be useful.  The most common case is hand-ins close to the end of the semester. 

Prehonours lectured courses

  1. Be wary of longer assignments where most or all questions require reasoning that markers need to carefully check.  This may be a situation where "less is more": cutting a few questions means that tutors have a reasonable amount to mark and  can provide feedback without rushing.  Students can take care over the arguments before submitting also without rushing. And if they have not understood the ideas there will be a more manageable amount of feedback. 
  2. Consider whether for routine questions with a definite answer, providing that answer in advance may reduce marking time. 

Honours courses with 5% CA

The point of making the rather low 5% figure the Honours standard was to make the hand-in very low stakes. In turn, this means that some form of "binary marking" is possible.  Anecdotally at least, it seems that in practice in many 5%CA courses, completing the assessments is the entirety of many students independent study. Recommendations to address this are below. 

  1. Make the hand-ins genuinely short, clearly less substantial than 15-20% courses in prehonours or Honours. 
  2. Binary marking is popular: it is suggested to adopt it unless one has good reasons not to.  Make expectations clear on this: ideally any student devoting some reasonable amount of time to it should receive the marks. 
  3. Consider possibilities such as asking students to bring to class an exercise they thety are stuck on for discussion. 
  4. Provide some guidance for students as to their independent study.  
    • Hand-ins do not need to cover every skill we expect Honours students to develop.  Indeed it is better if they do not.  It is perfectly reasonable to tell the class that such and such a skill (as exemplified by Examples P and Q, Questions X,Y and Z and their model solutions) while not appearing in hand-ins is very much on the course and likely to be examined.  If they need help with it, that could be provided in workshops. 

Honours courses with 15-20% CA

Unless lecturers in small classes are taking on more marking time than is budgeted for, this sort of higher level, larger hand-in model needs careful balance to keep within marking resource limits. 

  • Expect that students are going to target all their spare study time for the course at marks from hand-ins.  (If students are expected to read in preparation for lectures, consider making some of the CA a test of that.) 
  • Consider whether hand-ins can be challenging rather than just long. They may be backed up by routine exercises that students need to do but which one does not mark. 
  • Consider whether some hand-ins might be automated or multiple choice.  

Student time allocation

Here is how student time allocations might work for 5% CA and 15-20% CA 10-credit Honours courses. Units are total of hours for course.  These are intended as illustrations rather than models. 

  5%CA 15-20% CA Comments
Revision and Exam 18 21 A little less for 15-20 because some LOs covered in hand-in work.
Contact Hours 27 27  
Completing hand-ins 15 30 Assuming five hand-ins
Problems not to be handed in 20 11 Approx 2 and 1 hour per week respectively
Pre-reading or reading lecture notes 20 11 Approx 2 and 1 hour per week respectively
Total 100 100 SQA compliant.  Real student time on task may be less. 


Last direct edit: 10:38, Wednesday 13 September 2017, by Toby Bailey. (Feedback? Please contact the page owners)

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