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Continuous assessment as a hindrance to certain student groups

…even though it should be easy.

See post of October 4th. I and perhaps others now frantically aware that the blog deadline is approaching, fire off all the thoughts that have been swimming around for the past 10 weeks that never got the chance to be formulated properly.

This shouldn’t be the case – it’s exactly how students operate when faced with essays, typically written with coffee or beer at 3am on the day of submission. But this blog is equivalent to weekly short submissions or multiple choice tests, so it shouldn’t have been so much of a problem.

This is perhaps symptomatic of the type of student and the way they process and organise; even though the blog is continually updatable and available at all times, it is still seen as a block – one of the two marks in the course, and something which develops to, at the end of the day, become a singular entity.

With that in mind, it is difficult for less confident thinkers, perfectionists, or disorganised people (students with specific learning difficulties are indeed one group, but many people may fall into this trap) to be self-critical of earlier thoughts, because they’re aware that it is inevitable.

When any education starts with beginner lectures and beginner essays in 1st year, the student is forced to respond in order to progress – they will undoubtedly feel out of their depth and ill-equipped. As they progress until reaching 4th year (“expert” level), they will become more confident with the subject matter and begin to overreach in terms of thinking and independent research. They can then look back on their first year essays with scorn and ridicule. That’s how it is supposed to be.

However, a 4 year undergraduate degree programme is 10 times longer than this course. With the linear mode of learning and with so much compressed into a short space of time, it is more tempting for the student to want to wait until they have some familiarity with each aspect of the course – even if the in depth knowledge comes with a ‘second pass’: skimming/scanning the course for the first time, with in depth reading following an overview understanding.
If that’s seen as a problem it can be easily remedied by the student, as they can dip in and out of all the materials readily. But they won’t be doing it at the same time as the class – it would seem discomforting for some students who’re posting in the week 1 forum to find that another student is already spamming weeks 8 and 9, looking for small progressions to facilitate their understanding of the whole.

So as I’ve already mentioned it may be helpful to suggest multiple approaches to virtual courses, depending on the learning style of the student. This is particularly useful when the course has a fairly common theme – an introduction to Political theory course, for example, needs to be linear: you can’t learn Machiavelli, Marx, and FDR simultaneously.
However, perhaps this is only a problem if the student perceives there to be a conflict in assessing the work done; if they can be assured that 30 posts in the final week is no different than 3 posts each week…

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