Rethinking Expectations About Assignments

It’s widely agreed upon that intrinsic interest in a learning activity is associated with deep approaches to learning and that students value assessment activities that appear worthwhile in themselves; they appear to have value beyond completing the task (Struyven et al. 2002)[1].

When developing hybrid classes it’s important to pay close attention to the ways in which online work connects with and supports the face-to-face interactions and vice-versa. Those who take part in ‘flipping‘ their class by recording mini lectures and placing them alongside activities that can be completed online and brought back to the classroom see the technique as a way to promote active classrooms through active study practices (see also this Hybrid site’s resources on flipping the classroom). Ramsden (1988) notes that “learning should be seen as a qualitative change in a person’s way of seeing, experiencing, understanding, conceptualizing something in the real world— rather than as a quantitative change in the amount of knowledge someone possesses” (p. 271)[2]. Whether the appropriate choice for expressing an opinion or position is via a multimedia tool or a web 2.0 site, students have an opportunity to shape their own learning environments by accessing, synthesizing and sharing information and ideas from anywhere in the world to reach an audience located anywhere, with immediacy and feedback.

The authors of a research study [3] devoted to the teaching-learning transaction have determined that while the traditional approach to learning is often characterized by the students’ attainment of a relegated amount of content, there should be equal commitment to process (the methods by which learning is acquired) in addition to content issues (which learning is valued):

There is general agreement that there are two fundamental approaches to learning: deep and surface. Students who assume a deep approach to their learning are intrinsically motivated and search for meaning by integrating new information with existing knowledge. Surface learners are extrinsically motivated (largely by grades) and have a reproductive conception of learning.

Through this study the authors found that while the traditional methods by which we’ve been judging teaching excellence like instructor “commitment, caring, passion for discipline, command of instructional techniques” are necessary, often they are not enough because grades and the types of tests that are given often have a direct effect on the students level of commitment and on the amount of effort they expend on the learning task:

Perhaps the best way to avoid conflicts associated with assessment is to clarify expectations at the beginning of a course. Expectations of all participants (professor and students) need to be addressed and agreements negotiated. At a minimum, students should understand the various constraints even if little compromise is possible. Furthermore, professors have to be seen to be fair in their grading. This does not mean lowering standards but simply making the grading criteria clear. Professors who are seen to be excellent at facilitating [learning] seem to be defined by how their stated aims and the means by which they evaluate student progress towards those outcomes are in agreement.

These actions, the authors claim, are more often the determinants of “whether their students approach learning in a deep/meaningful or surface/reproductive manner.” That is, exams that are given that emphasize recall will “likely cause students to take a surface approach.” Instead they recommend providing activities which allow students to assume the responsibility for “reflecting upon and processing content in a deep, meaningful manner,” warning that without these types of meaningful engagements with the material teachers who teach to the tests that measure recall will have students who feel they have “little choice but to take a surface approach.”

[1] Struyven, K., Dochy, F., and Janssens, S. (2002) Students’ perceptions about evaluation and assessment in higher education: a review

[2] Ramsden, P. (1988), as quoted in (Garrison et. al, 1995) Studying learning: Improving teaching. In P. Ramsden (Ed.), Improving learning: New perspectives. London: Kogan Page.

[3] Garrison, D.R., Andrews, J, and Magnusson, K. (1995). Approaches to Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. New Currents 2.1 January 1995

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