Put stuff to do with careers and employability on the curriculum and you are guaranteed to have the students in revolt before you can blink your eyes. I have already been working on ways of making the educational side of this process better for the students, This year I have an opportunity to try to make some innovations which impact on assessment and feedback.
Introduction: My Situation
This week those two agendas have bubbled to the surface in an interestingly counterposed manner
1) I am tasked with 'teaching' students to complete reflective portfolios which I will later mark
think is a waste of time and would generally dump in preference for getting on with some meaty topic which they perceive as being relevant to their chosen degrees.
2) I am tasked with working with colleagues to develop our employability agenda across and within the curriculum
Many of our students are highly employable, and willingly develop their own employability skills out of class, we have good general employment rates.
Those students who have difficulties may be self consious, odd, shy, lacking in self confidence, confused, or generally struggling. Such students may not respond to additional structured activities, and we are to be advised to design any such activities with great care
The portfolios the students will create are structured to help them with their learning ( a practical task) but are also seen to be relevant to the careers and employability agenda. I am shuddering at the whiff of the letters PDP, and of course the students have a lot of baggage in that area as well. School portfolios and skills classes mean this is a very difficult area of the curriculum. I am having to work hard to help the students understand what might be in it for them, beyond a few marks for a fairly simple task, which gets them a little closer to the end of their degree. I think the processes have great value, I am not however convinced about the outputs. Let me expand...
Some ethical considerations
I have a few ethical concerns which are in the area of the process of reflective logs and portfolios generally. Different people will reflect in different ways. Students need a great deal of self confidence plus the sense of personal safety to be able to reveal their inner thoughts on their successes and failures in writing.
Faced with the prospect of answering/interpreting a series of short questions to put into a document to be potentially ripped apart by the critical eye of an academic, many of them take an opt out of this activity and rather than offering reflections, offer bland statements which distance themselves from the process, and protect themselves from any harm.
I am not sure it is easy to award a fair mark for such a personal activity. Students rely on clear assessment criteria to assist them in objective tasks, but clearly reflection and creating a reflective portfolio is highly subjective.
This puts me in a difficult position. What am I to do? How should I mark these portfolios? Should I mark the portfolios? Surely the fact that they are marked will change their purpose?
Last year I read each portfolio, constucted an individual mark which was based on what I understood to be the level of engagement based on the content with which I was presented. I was not sure when I marked each portfolio, from what base each student was starting.
I constructed some generic feedback, and sent this to all the students. Each portfolio had some individual comments, I was wary of being hurtful to the individuals, bit I tried to provide constructive feedback and criticisms.
So.... this year we are asking another cohort to produce portfolios. For the marking I will be:
- meeting with each student individually for 10 minutes to discuss their portfolio
.... for some reason I was suddenly reminded of a recent rather unsatisfactory appraisal meeting....
- The meetings will be videod for moderation purposes and quality assurance.
- I am thinking of making an audio recording of each session which I mail to the student at the close of the discussion, so that they have their own record of the proceedings.
- I will produce a generic feedback document for this cohort
It will be interesting to see how I can streamline the process, from the point of view of producing the audio and video, making sure it is indexed and analysing what the students' perception of the process compared to their previous experiences - quite a few methodological challenges in that little bit, never mind the technology.
I hope that my personal awareness will serve the students well. I suddenly have another memory, this time of a comment from a one-time vice chancellor at another university. "We deal with student's life chances, we don't have the right to fuck them up"!
It may be that the already self confident fill in such forms with ease and as a result get a good mark, but I do not believe that their ease with the task will help the employability of the whole cohort. We are working with engineering students. We have a high level of dislexia across our student cohort. I had a student close to tears today because of some comments he had received on a previously submitted portfolio.
The good bit
I suppose because I am sensitive to the possible shortcomings, and I do care about how the students benefit, I will bring these considerations to bear in our school planning and discussions.