More clues, cues and signposts please: First year student views on assignments – CRADLE Seminar Series

A full house at Deakin Downtown and many more online joined us to hear CQUniversity’s Dr Joanne Dargusch discuss how to translate research on diverse students’ assessment experiences into practical action, the latest presentation in our 2019 CRADLE Seminar Series. Here, CRADLE PhD candidate Sarah Lambert shares her key takeaways from Joanne’s seminar – and if you weren’t able to make it on the day, a recording is now available! The recording, along with Joanne’s slides, is available to view at the bottom of the page.

CQU is a multi-campus university with both regional and metropolitan campuses and study centres. Around 30% of their undergraduate students are from low socio-economic status (LSES) backgrounds and around 20% study at a distance. So it was great to hear from Joanne about the findings from a three-year CQU project, “Supporting Student Assessment Success”, which was funded through the Federal Government’s Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program (HEPPP) National Priorities Program.

Dr Joanne Dargusch presents her seminar before a large and attentive audienceAs part of the project, 161 LSES students with complex lives were interviewed from across three foundational units. They provided feedback on the pros and cons of the unit they were studying, which allowed the researchers to make a series of recommendations to improve the unit.

There was a timely reminder that more is not always more. Too many academic literacy how-to resources didn’t help if the students couldn’t see how and at what point such resources could help their assignments.  Too many reminders and explanations through various communications channels didn’t help if the messages were, confusingly, just a bit different. A common request was to see real examples of assignments – to look at a portfolio, to see an actual essay. This challenged academics who were concerned about the potential for plagiarism.

While providing academics with an opportunity to hear students’ views was a persuasive call for change, some views were hard to shift. Some academics were only open to superficial changes and, as Joanne stated, “student data was interpreted in ways that fit academic staff world views.” The challenges of winning over the hearts and minds of academics with regards their assessment practices is clearly an ongoing project.

Dr Joanne Dargusch presents a slide from her seminarJoanne and her research team work from the position that the diversification of the student cohort over recent years must influence the work we do in teaching, learning and assessment. This is a view that is increasingly being understood at Deakin and there is a certain upswing of energy around the Inclusive Education Community of Practice, which runs similar showcase events at Deakin – we are lucky to be hosting Sarah O’Shea in October.

According to O’Shea, who has done a great deal to raise the profile of first-in-family students and strategies to help them feel welcome, around 50% of learners currently in the Australian higher education system are the first in their family to attend university. Although these students have aspiration, inspiration and grit, they usually don’t have the inside knowledge on university jargon and how things are done – hence the need for more clues, cues and signposts to successfully navigate their first year, first units and first assessments.


View slides from Joanne’s seminar here.

Category list: CRADLE Seminar Series, News

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