Mar 19 2015

Departmental Assessment Statements at LSE

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Neil McLeanDr Neil McLean, Director of LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre, reports on the background to LSE’s Departmental Assessment Statements and their likely benefits for both staff and students

 

As many LSE faculty will know, Academic Board voted on 5 November 2014 that departments would take the lead in defining their own assessment strategies – a change to the established approach of having a School-led, centralised approach. As a result, departments have been asked to write a statement of their assessment and feedback strategy that will serve different audiences and purposes. The audiences include students, departmental staff, School leadership and professional services, as well as external quality assurance agencies. Purposes include successful communication with students on assessment, the drawing up  of a framework within which departmental staff will plan and deliver assessment and feedback, and the provision of a basis upon which the School can both provide regulation and review that support the delivery of the assessment strategies and demonstrate compliance with national educational frameworks such as the QAA.

As mentioned, the Board’s decision is a departure from current arrangements, whereby a single, School-wide statement of assessment principles governs departmental approaches to formative and summative assessment. Departments will now be able to set out local assessment principles which will cover things like: how assessment on their courses is relevant to specific disciplines, how it allows students to demonstrate the achievement of programme learning outcomes, how formative assessment – when supported by effective Continue reading

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Mar 16 2015

Resource of the week

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In view of the vote by LSE’s Academic Board that departments should take the lead in defining their own assessment strategies, and the subsequent requirement for each department to write an ‘assessment and feedback strategy statement’ in time for the 2015/16 academic year, we thought it would be interesting to share the ways in which three comparable UK institutions have approached similar processes.

  • Warwick’s Assessment Strategy and Good Practice (web page) outlines the institutional approach to assessment and the expectation that departments will develop their own strategies.
  • UCL’s Assessment Strategy (PDF) is a detailed institutional assessment strategy – quite UCL specific, but an interesting example of this kind of approach being used in a neighbouring institution.
  • QMUL’s Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy (PDF) is another example of an institutional strategy, but one which provides an interesting contrast with the UCL document.
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Mar 12 2015

Welcoming students in LSE’s Department of Social Psychology

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Claudine Provencher, 2013, croppedDr Claudine Provencher reports on the innovation and fine-tuning of Welcome Week activities being practised in LSE’s Department of Social Psychology

 

As Jennifer Case (2008) argues in her article about alienation and engagement in higher education, various things can be done to reduce the feelings of alienation that may be felt by students entering a new higher educational system or moving on from undergraduate to postgraduate studies.

Some of these are being put into practice with very good effect by LSE’s Department of Social Psychology. Although relatively small by LSE standards, the department runs four master’s programmes as well as a PhD programme and so sees a very regular ‘churn’ of new students. Each September, more than 150 of them, the great majority from overseas, arrive to start their year-long master’s programme.

Operating within the larger context of the School’s systems in terms of admission and registration procedures, the department has set up a number of initiatives that go a long way towards helping the students to make the most of their relatively short time at LSE. For instance, as soon as a student receives an offer, one of the departmental administrators contacts them and invites them to join the LSE Social Psychology Group on Facebook. This has been found to have a positive impact on the conversion rates (the number of offers accepted over the number of offers made) and has facilitated the Continue reading

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Mar 9 2015

Resource of the week

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LSE derives a significant proportion of its income from overseas students joining one of the several master’s programmes offered by its departments (at the last count, there was 126 such programmes throughout the School), with approximately 4,500 students joining them this year.

One of the major challenges faced in this area is how best to facilitate the integration of these students and to make sure that they make the most of their time at LSE. Much of the communication with the students begins before they arrive and the Admissions teams play a key role in that process. However, the bulk of the integration work takes place during Welcome Week when the students join their respective departments and meet their programme directors and each other. A specific example of how this is being done in LSE’s Department of Social Psychology will be the subject of our post on Thursday.

Meanwhile, an innovative attempt to improve the integration of students is currently being tested at the University of St Andrews, which receives more than 2,000 master’s students from overseas every academic year. A Virtual World Orientation for St Andrews (PDF) reports on the pilot phase of the ViStA (Virtual St Andrews) project, which aims to ‘help prospective students to adjust to self-directed learning and find out more about the university and the town of St Andrews’. Similar to Second Life, the idea is to provide students with a virtual reality environment so that they can interact with the university before their arrival, in a non-threatening and self-paced environment.

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Mar 5 2015

Mindsets and mathematical ability

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The notion of mindsets in education was introduced by Carol Dweck in 2006. Summarising decades of research, she identified two mindsets exhibited by learners, and analysed how those mindsets affected learners’ ability to develop. A growth mindset is characterised by a belief that certain traits are dynamic in nature and can be developed: students with a growth mindset are typically focused on learning goals, place more value on effort and deal more positively to setbacks and difficulties in their learning. A fixed mindset is strongly characterised by a belief in ‘natural’ ability levels – the notion that one is either smart in a subject or not – and is often accompanied by an avoidance of challenge and a preference for tasks that can be easily achieved. Since the publication of Dweck’s book, a growing body of research has shown that such mindsets have a profound effect on both students’ and teachers’ approaches to learning.

In ‘Ability and Mathematics: the mindset revolution that is reshaping education’, author Jo Boaler highlights the detrimental effect that ability grouping – a frequent consequence of a ‘fixed mindset’ approach to education, and one that is often seen in UK and US schools – can have on student achievement throughout their academic careers and into their professional lives. However, the central theme of Boaler’s paper is not this rather gloomy prognosis, but rather the extensive evidence that shows that changing learners’ mindsets can have a positive and significant effect on their achievements at almost any time in their lives, from early schooling through to university and beyond.

Exposure to ‘growth mindset’ ideals can have a hugely beneficial impact on students. How then can we introduce these ideals into our teaching, and promote a change in students? In ‘Mindsets and Math/Science Achievement’, Carol Dweck suggests that minor and light-touch changes can bring surprisingly significant benefits, citing, by way of illustration, a 2002 study at Stanford that showed how appropriate peer tutoring training to students affected the grades of both peer tutors and peer tutees. This highlights the pivotal role that feedback, and the messages that are constantly given to students, play in changing students’ mindsets and attitudes, and they suggest that, as teachers, we might wish to consider the following.

  • Positive messages about the value and benefit of difficulty levels or mistakes can overcome the tendency on students’ parts to see these as indicators of their (perceived) limitations.
  • Providing praise and feedback on process (eg strategies, effort, progress or even persistence) rather than on outcomes (which emphasise the final result), or on the student her/himself (which can reinforce ideas of intelligence or ability levels), can help to promote a long lasting confidence among students.

Dweck’s paper contains many suggestions as to how these practices can be brought into the classroom, and further considers how changing mindsets can help address inequalities in (mathematics) education by helping to dispel the myths that relate to natural ability levels and predispositions.

References

Boaler, J. (2013), Ability and Mathematics: the mindset revolution that is reshaping education, FORUM, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 143-152

Dweck, C. (2006), Mindsets: the new psychology of success, New York: Ballantine Books

Dweck, C. (2008), Mindsets and Math/Science achievement, New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York, Institute for Advanced Study, Commission on Mathematics and Science Education. Alternative source at NationalNumeracy.org.uk

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