Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Seminar Assessment
Originator Alan Lester
Department Department of Geography, St Mary's University College, University of Surrey, TW1 4SX
Tel. +44 (0)181 240 4077
Fax. +44 (0)181 240 4255
E-mail lestera@smuc.ac.uk

The assessment of students' seminar contributions was initially conceived as a response to poor attendance at seminars within a core module on the Nature and Philosophy of Geography at level two. In such a module it was thought particularly important that students should participate in discussion and demonstrate their understanding of influential literature. It was soon realised though that seminar assessment could yield further benefits. It could both broaden the range of skills assessed and, by stimulating students to debate, encourage a more active role in their own learning as a whole.

Seminar contributions are assessed according to a list of criteria involving the extent and value of verbal contributions, evidence of relevant reading and interaction with other students making contributions. In order that the assessment procedure takes as little time as possible a mark between one and ten is awarded to each student at the end of each seminar according to a marking scheme devised with these criteria in mind. Students are informed of the criteria and reassured that asking questions to clarify their understanding in seminars will not make them liable to a lower mark. If a student is absent without adequate explanation, a zero mark is automatically awarded. Ten percent of the marks for the entire Nature and Philosophy of Geography module are reserved for overall seminar performance.

It is too early to discuss the outcomes of the scheme in any detail. It is expected though that student attendance at seminars will improve noticeably. It is also hoped that students will acquire more practice in developing transferable skills of oral communication. Potential problems include independent verification of marks awarded. There can be no external moderating of marks awarded for seminar performance, but a rough consistency of student performance would be expected across all six seminars comprising this part of the course. Obvious anomalies in marking for any one performance could be investigated in the event of a student complaint. An alternative may be to ask students to assess their own performance at the end of each seminar and use these assessments to spot any glaring anomalies in lecturer-awarded marks.

Keywords:

Assessment
Debate
Discussion
Oral communication
Seminars


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