Student Choice in Assessment
EDUC 201: Issues in Education is a first-year mandatory course for students in the 4-year Bachelor of Education program, and the 5-year Concurrent Bachelor Education program. The course explores big questions in education, such as why we should educate children, what we should teach, along with who should control education. Dr. David Scott, an Instructor in the Werklund School of Education has been teaching this course for two years now, having inherited it from a colleague. Up to 190 students take the course each fall, making it one of the largest coursers taught in Werklund. There is also a smaller cohort of community-based education students who take the course in the summer. Despite often having a large number of students, Dr. Scott finds ways to ensure the course is meaningful and relevant to students. Ultimately, students leave the course as emerging professionals able to thoughtfully engage in enduring issues in education.
To help foster dispositions of a professional, Dr. Scott has worked with his colleague Dr. Dianne Gereluk to create a group poster presentation assignment. The poster project is assigned several weeks before it is due. Students form groups of three to four and then identify a research question connected to an issue in education. Students must find up to 10 different scholarly sources to help them take a position on the question. The poster project provides an opportunity for students to select a topic in education that interests them. Many topics, such as whether LGBTQ+ issues should be included in the sexual health curriculum, or whether inquiry-based approaches to teaching improve academic performance, are popular every year. However, because students must stake out their own position on these issues, and the research literature is so large and diverse, no two projects are the same.
First-year students in the course often have very little to no experience with educational research. Accordingly, Dr. Scott uses some of his lectures as workshop-style sessions to help them develop the skills they need to be successful in the project. This includes how to develop focused research questions, search academic databases, as well as cite properly in APA. These sessions take place over several weeks, so that students can work on the different components of the project over time.
Students are given the rubric when the project is assigned, which is moreover used and referenced during the various in-class workshops. Dr. Scott designs his rubrics with students in mind ensuring they provide clear criteria for what quality work entails. As part of this process, he also uses what he calls “non-exemplars” where students must draw on criteria from the rubric to provide feedback on how the work could be improved. He likes using these “non-exemplars” over high-quality exemplars, as students often overly emulate the strong example without using their own creativity.
At the end of the project, students present their posters at research showcase at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning attended by graduate students, faculty, and sessional instructors. Students display their posters on the screens in the Taylor Institute Learning Studios and the guests can move throughout the room and discuss the projects with the students. This is less intimidating for some students than presenting in front of the class, since they have to speak to four or five people at a time, instead of nearly 200. Digital posters are an interesting format because students can utilize technology in different ways, such as linking to audio or videos, including animations, or just being able to zoom into areas of focus. It also saves them from having to pay for expensive printing.
Students work always exceeds Dr. Scott’s expectations. The research projects are interesting and in-depth, and the posters are well designed. The guests who attend the poster session are also incredibly impressed. Some even suggest that students submit their work to conferences, which very few first-year students ever have the opportunity to do.
Dr. Scott notes that most groups work well together and do a great job without major issues. However, groups occasionally come to him with concerns that are affecting their ability to work together as a team. When this happens, he takes time to have a conversation with the students and helps them find a solution that works for everyone.
Dr. Scott will continue assigning the project in future iterations of the course and will keep using the workshop-style sessions to develop skills needed to succeed in this assignment. The course and the project are very popular with students and consistently receive positive feedback in evaluations. Most students take this course alongside other large, first-year lectures, where they do not always get opportunities for significant feedback or develop specific skills. It takes a lot of time and effort for Dr. Scott to develop the rubric, give the workshop sessions, provide feedback to students, and grade the posters. He only has one half time TA to help him with all of this. However, students have such a positive experience, it is definitely worth it to put in this much effort. His focus on feedback, clear expectations, and giving students the resources they need to do well creates a supportive atmosphere and experience for students.