Student Self-Assessment of Seminar Contribution

Brief description

In a course taught (partly) through group discussion, students assess their own contribution to the seminar's effectiveness.

Aims and skills

To develop students' ability to participate actively in class discussion and to take more responsibility for their own and their colleagues' learning.

Courses used in

Introductory human geography, political geography, contemporary China; this method is appropriate for any course which is (in part) taught through seminar discussion.

What the teacher does

At the beginning of the course, make clear that students' contributions to the effectiveness of seminars will be assessed. Explain why you are doing this.

If students are unused to this procedure, it can be very valuable to involve them in establishing criteria for assessment. In the first class period divide them into small groups and get each group to suggest criteria (Limiting them to three or four criteria focuses discussion.) Compare the criteria of different groups. Through discussion, negotiate an agreed set of criteria.

Alternatively state (and explain) the criteria you are using.

At the end of the course students fill in a self-assessment sheet on their view of the effectiveness of their contribution to the seminars and suggest a mark for themselves. You decide on the final mark on the basis of their comments, their suggested mark and your view of their contribution to the seminars. (Alternatively at the end of the course get them to discuss and negotiate a mark with their fellow students or with you.)

Problems for the teacher

Students unused to the idea of having seminars assessed may find it strange, even absurd. In particular, they may be surprised at the prospect of assessing their own contribution. You need to be flexible over procedures but firm in your purpose.

Some students may consider that too much time is spent over class procedures as opposed to course content. You need to be clear in your own mind what you are doing and why and explain this clearly to the students. You should be open to extensive discussion and negotiation with students on this question - for it can lead into discussion of many important issues e.g. what is the purpose of education, should it be assessed and by whom? You have to decide when to let these discussions continue, when to encourage them and when to call an end and get on with the overt content of the course.

Students (and you) can forget the criteria and can lose sight of how they think they should be acting in the seminars. Mid-way through the course it can be valuable to get them to look again at the criteria and consider how they are performing and what aspects of their contribution they need to strengthen.

When students complete this self-assessment they can easily get fixated on the mark. You need to emphasise that you are looking for extensive and careful self analysis. Their suggested mark is a secondary consideration. Students can reveal a lot about themselves, their insecurities and uncertainties in a group, through this method of self analysis. Your comments on their self-assessments often need to be positive and sensitive. To you, the teacher, the mark has to become secondary or irrelevant.

The Geography Discipline Network would like to thank the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) for permission to reproduce material from this publication.

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