In the past eight years I have been responsible for teaching, preparing and assessing students on pre-sessional courses, as well as more specialised in-sessionals. The range of assessment types vary, and has included presentations, poster presentations, seminars, extended essays, reports and exams. On in-sessional programmes, feedback is largely formative and designed to facilitate opportunities for students to identify gaps in their previous IELTS exam writing and the expectations of formal academic writing. At BPP University, I always began the feedback process by administering diagnostic tests at the start of the course (see Padlet). Following which I would hold a class discussion about academic style, discourse, and genres of writing. Students were then encouraged to self-reflect on their writing, applying their newly acquired knowledge. I find conducting this activity at the very start of students’ academic courses helps them to recognise their strengths and weaknesses and make an informed decision about the skills and knowledge they need to develop to be successful in their studies. As contact time on in-sessional programmes is limited, I designed an accompanying Padlet for students to self-reference during their academic studies (see Padlet).
On pre-sessional courses, where the stakes are higher, I ensure that feedback is continuous, timely, and actionable, so that students can make improvements in the time available before submitting summative assignments. To avoid overwhelming students with language-related errors, I use selective marking, underlining errors and categorising these using a correction code to encourage students to self-correct (Lee, 2005) (and see Padlet for example). This approach can prove rather effective for students who need to continue improving their grammar and knowledge of academic vocabulary and style after the pre-sessional course. In addition, I provide students with summarised action points that highlight key issues with language and content. This typically takes the form of one strength, and two areas for improvement (see Padlet for example). I also provide verbal feedback in one-to-one tutorials, which sometimes takes the form of a conference where students can observe as I correct a short piece of writing to help them understand where readability, communication and structure break down. This allows them an opportunity to ask for further clarification and targeted advice, after which they can set short and mid-term learning goals, which is essential to promote student autonomy.
The universities I have taught at tend to develop their own marking criteria, but the frameworks are broadly the same (see Padlet for example). They tend to be a combination of a generic academic assessment criteria and partly reference the IELTS descriptors to include 1. Task response, 2. Organisation, 3. Use of sources, 4. Language – appropriacy and style (see Padlet for comparison of criteria). As academic writing is perhaps one of the most occluded genres of writing (Swales, 1994), I find providing students with models of good academic writing to analyse aids better understanding of the assessment criteria and what is expected of them. At some universities, feedback is given on paper, but more recently there has been a shift towards using digital platforms for formative and summative feedback (see Padlet). I often create opportunities for peer-feedback in class, not only because it allows students to learn from each other and reflect on their own ability (Horowitz, 1986), but also because peer-feedback is considered less threatening than teacher feedback (Medonca & Johnson in Hyland, 2006). At King’s College and BPP University, I was able to compliment in-class feedback with online feedback using Moodle, Padlet, GoogleDocs and Blackboard.
One of the advantages of a VLE such as Padlet is that it enables teachers to stage feedback. On less intensive academic writing courses at BPP University, I employed two phases of feedback to help students better comprehend the writing and editing process. Teacher and peer feedback to students’ first drafts focused on the taught elements of essay structure, referencing and academic style. This helped students to recognise other important components of good academic writing in addition to grammatical accuracy (Hyland, 2006). In later drafts, the emphasis was on improving the grammatical accuracy of their work (Ellis, 2006). Padlet was particularly helpful in both phases because once I had categorised the error, I could prompt other students to provide possible corrections. I would also guide students to research solutions rather than simply providing teacher corrections. Although students tend to question the effectiveness of self and peer feedback, it is vital for EAP teachers to reduce students’ reliance on the tutor, develop student autonomy and the ability to collaborate with their peers using VLEs to help them become successful students.
Technology now grants students and teachers more time to reflect in feedback processes. Students have the time they need to provide considered, more in-depth responses towards their peers’ work (Hlas et al, 2012). Having time to review students’ responses means I find it easier to assess whether the training in peer response has been effective. I can better gauge the effectiveness of students’ approaches to providing constructive criticism, and if they have acquired the appropriate language and phrases which motivate their peers to improve. It also saves considerable time as I can highlight common issues and provide appropriate solutions to the whole class using a VLE. This includes written, and more recently recorded audio, summaries of strengths and weaknesses, and appropriate solutions, which can take the form of various web links and suggested digital media. This demonstrates my understanding and experience of the core principles which inform using technology for assessment and feedback.
Ellis, R. (2006). The methodology of task-based teaching. Asian EFL Journal. 8 (3): 79-101.
Hlas, A. C., Schuh, K. L., & Alessi, S. M. (2008). Native and Non-Native Speakers in Online and Face-to-Face Discussions: Levelling the Playing Field. Journal of Educational Technology Systems. 36(4): 337-373.
Horowitz, D. (1986). Process not product: less than meets the eye (in the Forum. TESOL Quarterly. 20 (1): 141 – 144.
Hyland, K. (2006). English for academic purposes: An Advanced Resource Book. Abingdon, Routledge.
Lee, I. (2005). Error correction in the L2 writing classroom: What do students think? TESL Canada Journal. 22 (2): 1 – 16.
Swales, J. (1994). Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.