Why showing is better than telling: Using exemplars to improve 1st year students' assessment understanding and achievement

Year: 2017

Author: Dargusch, Joanne, Harris, Lois, De Vries, Peter, Lawson, Warren

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

As higher education strives to increase the diversity of its student population, it is important to consider what pedagogical adjustments may be necessary to help such students adapt to and thrive within a university environment, particularly within their first year of study. While students experience difficulties with their higher education studies for a range of reasons (Long et al., 2006), their assessment experiences have a major impact on their self-efficacy, motivation, approach to learning, and ability to progress in their program of study (Lizzio & Wilson, 2013). Hence, how assessment is structured and scaffolded is of vital importance for lecturers and institutions wishing to improve their student retention and academic outcomes.
This paper, drawing on data from the larger HEPPP funded Supporting Students' Assessment Success (SSAS) project, explores first year student perspectives from diverse discipline areas to examine what they said helped them or would help them most to understand and achieve assessment expectations. Drawing on data from over 600 surveys and more than 100 interviews, it was found that while students appreciated detailed instructions and criteria sheets, they usually found exemplars to be most helpful when trying to visualise what it was that they actually had to do in an assessment task, suggesting such scaffolding may be particularly important to have in place in 1st year subjects. The paper then presents two case studies demonstrating how lecturers introduced exemplars into their 1st year courses, sharing data around student perceptions before and after the exemplar was introduced. It also discusses the real and perceived challenges associated with exemplar use within these courses and higher education more broadly, making recommendations for best practice.