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Dr Richard Rayne

Dr Rayne teaches a variety of modules on the BSc in Biology.

He recommends that assessment should be frequent, but not burdensome on staff as far as possible. In terms of helping students, everything is useful. We shouldn’t dismiss formative assessments, although students may place less weight on them. Dr Rayne tells students that their engagement is required and that summative assessments will require the knowledge built up via the formative assessments.

Until this year, first-year laboratory reports have been written in fragments for summative assessment (e.g. a method section, then a results section, etc.) so that students gradually build up to writing full reports. This year, there were over 100 students on this module, and this larger group has necessitated some reinvention. The marking requirement was too much for staff, so the report fragments became formative assessments, completed outside of class.

Class sessions were dedicated to consideration of these assessments. Students self-assessed against a supplied rubric, and it was emphasized that this is a crucial skill for higher education. Students then examined each others’ efforts in pairs or groups and reported back. Additionally, good, bad and in-between examples relating to the assigned work were supplied for review and discussion. Dr Rayne asked students why they thought a piece had received a particular mark based on the criteria.

The last formative lab report received brief feedback from markers. Then, before they submitted a report for summative assessment, Dr Rayne held a workshop for students to attend with their drafts. A “pre-flight check” rubric was supplied for students to review their drafts and to highlight any gaps remaining before submitting reports the following week.

Despite the move from summative to more formative assessment this year, Dr Rayne’s impression is that performance has held steady. He was disappointed that some of the formative assessment sessions were not well-attended. With a few tactical adjustments, he intends to continue to develop this approach in future.

Dr Rayne uses clickers to test student understanding during class and to make as effective use as possible of limited contact time. In particular, he uses clickers to gauge if a particular teaching intervention has been effective. He also uses online quizzes, which are worth a small fraction (usually around 10%) of students’ final grades. All of this supports his approach of multiple assessments for students with a manageable workload for staff.