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Investigating the use of formative and peer assessment in the scientific discipline: Are they effective learning resources?


Saunders, C, Investigating the use of formative and peer assessment in the scientific discipline: Are they effective learning resources?, 12th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 27-30 October 2015, Melbourne, Australia, pp. 60. (2015) [Non Refereed Conference Paper]


Literature: In many undergraduate science degrees, knowledge attainment and concept application are often assessed through scientific reports. These reports provide students with opportunities to engage in scientific practices by interpreting evidence to construct and reconstruct their own knowledge of the subject matter. However, despite their prevalence as an assessment tool in the scientific discipline, academic staff often assume that students already possess the necessary synthesis and essay-writing skills needed to produce quality scientific reports, which is often not the case. While the use of formative and peer assessment in higher education to enhance student learning is not new, there has been limited research investigating their combined use to enhance scientific report writing skills. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effectiveness of both formative and peer assessment to; a) develop and practice scientific writing skills and b) deepen student learning.

Methods: This study was undertaken in a first-year science unit (n = 84 students) at the University of Tasmania. Prior to submission of the first scientific report, all students were invited to submit a draft report, from which formative feedback was provided along with an opportunity for students to ask questions related to the feedback. Students were also provided with an opportunity to peer assess an exemplar scientific report and make judgements about it using a similar grading and criteria sheet against which their own work was assessed. On completion of the unit, all students were invited to complete a survey to gauge their perceptions on the value and effectiveness of both the formative and peer assessment activities for enhancing their learning and scientific writing skills (n = 62; 74% response rate). A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods was employed to analyse the data obtained.

Evidence: 92% of students increased their grade point by at least 1 (e.g. from a pass to a credit) for their summative assessment. Moreover, the average grade for all four scientific reports for the unit significantly increased compared to the average result for the previous year’s cohort (p = 0.05). Students reported that the formative and peer assessment activities provided: 1) feedback that was highly useful when writing subsequent reports; 2) an opportunity for critical thinking about one’s own work; 3) a clearer understanding of what is expected and how work is assessed, and; 4) an opportunity to improve the quality of work submitted. The formative and peer assessment activities were identified as effective learning resources by students (92% and 77%, respectively). 92% of students indicated that they would use, or had already used, the skills that they had learnt from these learning opportunities in other units.

Conclusions: This study provides definitive evidence that both formative and peer assessment in the science discipline are highly effective learning resources to: 1) develop and enhance students’ scientific report writing skills, and; 2) deepen student learning by encouraging critical reflection of their own work.

Item Details

Item Type:Non Refereed Conference Paper
Keywords:formative assessment; peer assessment; learning resources; science; student perspectives
Research Division:Education
Research Group:Curriculum and pedagogy
Research Field:Science, technology and engineering curriculum and pedagogy
Objective Division:Education and Training
Objective Group:Learner and learning
Objective Field:Learner and learning not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Saunders, C (Dr Cassie Saunders)
ID Code:107997
Year Published:2015
Deposited By:Curriculum and Academic Quality
Deposited On:2016-04-04
Last Modified:2016-04-04

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