Addressing common student problems with assessment – Support staff perspectives
Academic success, retention, and progression towards graduation are important for students and universities alike. Assessments are the primary means with which student academic success is measured, yet students transitioning from secondary school into large first-year classes often struggle to understand the assessment task and structures at university.
This project highlights common problems that first-year New Zealand university students encounter with regards to assessment. It draws on support staff perspectives and insights into these problems to provide recommendations for learners (and their families), lecturers, support staff and institutions to consider as priorities to improve university assessment practices for first-year students.
Staff from the different student support units within the university: Academic Skills Centre, Student Development, Disability Resource Service, Māori Development Team, Pacific Development Team and Library participated in the study. Data from interviews provided insight into the common problems that first-year students face in terms of assessment, likely causes of those problems, and guidelines for improved university practice. Historical data from the Academic Skills Centre were also analysed to gain a better understanding of the specific kinds of assessment-related inquiries that first-year university students tend to bring to learning advisors for guidance and support.
Findings about first-year students and assessments
Five broad themes about first-year students’ and assessment were identified.
- High school to tertiary assessments represent an abrupt, unclear and substantial shift
First year students tend to struggle with assessments due to large discrepancies in the academic tasks used in high school when compared to university. Among the most commonly referenced problems are recognisable differences in assessment methods between secondary and tertiary classrooms. First-year students often have an unrealistic or inaccurate expectation about university.
- Students lack of transferable skills
Generally, transferrable skills comprise poor or weak understanding of how to learn. First-year students generally have limited understanding of what it means to be an independent, self-regulated learner.
- Students have weak or inadequate discipline-specific skills
Many students enter university without having taken appropriate coursework in high school.
- There are issues with the design of assessments
Poorly written or ambiguous instructions can quickly lead to frustration. Problems arise when instructions either lack enough information for the student to fully understand task criteria, or, alternatively, provide too much information so the student is overwhelmed with details.
- Students experience unsupportive learning climates
Transitioning students often do not feel comfortable asking the lecturer for clarity. They often lack information about university processes and procedures
Recommendations for learners (and their families), lecturers, support staff and institutions to consider
Information, communication and integration are key components of each recommendation.
- Share accurate expectations about university.
Extend the student orientation period to better familiarise students with the university environment and what it means to engage in university-level study.
- Enhance solid transferrable skills
Communicate to students in individual course outlines, what transferrable skills will be required in a course. Teaching staff should familiarise themselves with the New Zealand secondary school system and NCEA requirements.
- Develop strong discipline-specific skills
More and closer collaboration between student liaison, academic advisors and academic units will ensure secondary students receive consistent simultaneous advice.
- Design and communicate clear, effective assessments
Develop closer collaboration between academics and support staff to ensure that assessments are clear to students. Provide no more than two pages of instructions.
- Cultivate a supportive learning climate
Develop a deeper understanding of students’ social and cultural backgrounds, and how these influence assessment (e.g. group work versus individual assessment).
- Dr Valerie Sotardi
- Dr Erik Brogt
- Angel Nicholson
- Cameron Scott
- Ripeka Tamanui-Hurunui
- Nick Ford
- Liz Keneti
- Waleed Wahsh
University of Canterbury $6,400 (excl. GST)
Project commenced: May 2015
Project completed: May 2016
- Sotardi, V.A. and Brogt, E. (2016) Common student problems with assessment during the transition to university: Support staff perspectives, insights, and recommendations. Wellington, Ako Aotearoa: National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.
- Sotardi, V.A. and Brogt, E. (2015) Identifying and mitigating common student problems with assessments. Auckland, New Zealand: Tertiary Education Research New Zealand Annual Conference, 25-27 Nov 2015.
- Brogt, E. (2015) Supporting students' academic performance. Christchurch, New Zealand: Ako Aotearoa Southern Hub Projects Colloquium III, 16 Nov 2015.
Besides these outputs, the results of the project have also been integrated into academic development workshops at the University of Canterbury. The first workshop was given in February 2016, with another scheduled for early June 2016.
In addition, the results have been incorporated in the curriculum of UC's postgraduate certificate in tertiary teaching, in particular in the HEDN603 course (Learning design and assessment in tertiary teaching).
|This report from this project is published under the Creative Commons 3.0 New Zealand Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike Licence (BY-NC-SA). Under this licence you are free to copy, distribute, display and perform the work as well as to remix, tweak, and build upon this work noncommercially, as long as you credit the author/s and license your new creations under the identical terms.|