Assessment in Large Classes

Assessment in large classes always poses  a challenge for most teaching staff due to: the increased chance of inconsistency in marking and grading; diverse student backgrounds and the practicality of providing sufficient and prompt feedback to individual students.  Many will feel that there are limited choices of assessment tasks for large class other than time-efficient and exam-based assessment methods such as MCQ and short answer exam questions.  There are alternatives that can make formative assessment of large classes feasible, here are some suggestions:

Diagnosis of Students Prior Knowledge

As large classes are typically foundation courses with students from diverse academic backgrounds and cohorts, it is often effective to give the class a quick diagnostic assessment at the beginning of the course to check their prior knowledge of course concepts, as well as their expectations for the course. This could be done with a short MCQ test, either a paper-based or an electronic-based (e.g clicker system), to identify the potential content and other challenges faced by the students. Subsequent measures could then be taken to help students to have a better grasp of the key concepts of the topics.

Model Answers and Feedback

For large classes, providing individual feedback may not always be feasible given time constraints. Teaching staff can consider preparing a feedback sheet with a list of the most common problems along with an explanation/model answer, leaving verbal feedback and suggestions on how to improve to lecture or tutorial sessions.

Written feedback to individual students can also employ a standardized score sheet that contains a tick in a box against a particular criterion or characteristics to indicate whether the work being assessed has that attribute.

Self- and Peer- assessment

When students act as the assessor to evaluate their own and others work, it can significantly reduce the assessment load for teaching staff. However, to make self- and peer- assessment work effectively, it is important to help students understand the criteria and the standards required.Reflection and critique of oneself and others may not come naturally, it needs practice to be able to realistically evaluate the quality of a piece of work. Additional briefing time may be required either during lecture or tutorial to prepare students for self- and peer- assessment but assessment rubrics can go a long way to alleviate the workload in this regard. For more information of self- and peer- assessment, please see here.

Clickers / Personal Response System

As mentioned above, clickers in large classes can be used to quickly assess students’ prior knowledge and identify common misconceptions of a topic. In addition, they can be used to check students’ understanding of the in-lecture content by giving them a few concept questions to answer. Based on their responses, the teacher can determine whether further instruction is required or not. For more information on the use of clickers, please see Teaching with Clickers.