Using assessed learning logs as a feedback tool

Providing effective feedback to students is an important and challenging aspect of the teaching and learning process, especially when dealing with a large cohort. One programme where I personally found this particularly challenging was on a postgraduate module on leadership, where I was teaching with over 200 registered students and trying to provide tailored feedback to each one.

I had trialled various methods to get students engaged and to begin working on the module assessment ahead of time, but the outcomes had not been encouraging. Providing students with feedback on the module was not only difficult because of the number of students but also because submission deadline came at the end of the teaching term. This consistently lead many students to assume that they had plenty of time on their hands and thus leave everything until the very last minute, meaning they were often left without enough opportunities to receive feedback or incorporate feedback received into their work.

Last year I decided to trial the use of an assessed learning log, which resulted in an improvement in student engagement and the pass rate of the module in question. The learning logs were designed to cover specific theories and concepts taught on the module and how students would apply these when completing their assessment at the end of term. Based on O’Connell & Dyment (2011), the requirements of the learning took into account some of the challenges that students might face when completing the writing. For example, I provided an outline to students to help those who might struggle with where to start and how to evidence their learning and engagement. Students were also encouraged to meet with me to discuss any difficulties they were facing in relation to the learning logs. In addition, the logs contributed 15% towards the final assessment mark.

Students were expected to complete a log of how they have engaged with the theories and concepts taught on the module and a record of research carried out for their assessment. At key points during the semester, students brought a PowerPoint slide to class with a summary of what they had done so far and received feedback on how to improve. These slides had to be included as an appendix in their final assessment submission. The feedback was provided in a manner that would allow students to incorporate the feedback in their assessment and this was very important because research shows that sometimes feedback given to students does not always provide opportunities for students to act on it.

The PowerPoint slide submitted was as follows:

The learning log received positive feedback from students;

The learning log helped me to engage earlier on in the programme than I normally would have done.”

“Preparing the PowerPoint slides allowed me to receive feedback which I used to improve my work before the deadline.”

“The outline provided a great starting point for me as I wouldn’t know where or how to start without it.”

“The learning log helped me identify areas on the module I did not understand and also gave me confidence to go see my tutor, as I had specific questions to ask and also the opportunity to improve my understanding.”

“The learning log helped me develop my critical thinking because I had to think carefully of how I would apply the theories in a practical one to the challenge I had chosen and what the shortcomings might be.

In sum, the learning logs were very useful when compared to other methods of providing feedback, because they encouraged students to engage with the theories at the beginning of term, provided opportunities for feedback sessions before the submission of their assessments, and built on other key skills such as critical thinking and research skills needed at postgraduate level. The logs provided students an opportunity to undertake research in real leadership issues that were of interest to them and come up with solutions using theories learnt on the module. From a teaching perspective, it provided me opportunities to tailor teaching and feedback to the needs of students, as feedback provided was not generic but tailored to address issues relevant to students. In addition, feedback provided was in a timely manner that allowed students to incorporate the feedback in their assessment and this was key because research shows that sometimes feedback given to students does not always provide opportunities for students to act on it (Hughes et al, 2015).

This new approach of providing feedback led to an improvement in the quality of work submitted by students (2019/2020 cohort) and a higher pass rate overall as compared to the previous years (see Figure 1 below).

By Josephine Van-Ess, Lecturer in Management, University of Sussex Business School

If you have any questions you can contact the author at j.van-ess@sussex.ac.uk

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