Short description of case study
This case study investigated students' capacity for self-assessment of their skills and successes, and the impact of this self-assessment on learning. The study was carried out among second year undergraduate students in a university management school. The students participated in the compulsory module Communication and Time Management, given three times a year.
The module included two written assignments and some non-written work such as group presentations and administrative tasks. Key features of this case were students' self-assessment and subsequent action-planning for their future self-development.
The structure of the assessment feedback method is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: The assessment/feedback method in Case Study 6
The first assignment (SA1) required students to complete a reflective analysis of their strengths and weakness relating to their academic work. The assignment brief asked students to produce arguments backed by evidence; for example, by illustrating the nature of their skills by referring to specific accomplishments. SA1 was assessed by the tutor, who looked at the quality of the arguments. The students developed an Action Plan (AP1) to enable them to work on the weaknesses identified in SA1.
In the second assignment (SA2) which was completed in the following term, students reflected on their skills development. They reviewed the success of their Action Plan in enabling them to improve their skills, and they then developed a second Action Plan (AP2) to carry forward their development. Students were asked to reflect on what they had learned from the planning exercise, and what lessons they would take forward when designing AP2. For example, was the timescale too short and over-optimistic? If so how would they change the timescale in AP2?
The second assignment, which included AP2, was tutor-assessed. The tutor looked for indications that students were able to reflect on the success or limitations of their earlier Action Plan, and improve their planning process as a result.
Objectives of case study
The objective of this case study was to provide an analysis of the utility of self-provided feedback for improving student engagement with the module, as well as considering the impact of self-provided feedback on the grades for the second assignments. Specifically, aims were to examine whether students are willing to give themselves feedback, to identify how 'accurate' such feedback may be, and to examine the extent to which students are likely to change their behaviour based on own feedback. 'Accuracy' was assessed in the second assignment; this was done by considering the quality of students' arguments about how they had learned from the process of creating the first reflective essay and action plan (SA1 and AP1) and how this learning had translated into their second action plan (AP2).
The assignments are described above. The focus of the case study was an examination of the second action plan (AP2). Of particular interest was the extent to which tutor feedback on the action plans matched students' reflections - written up in AP2 - on (a) their ability to implement AP1 and (b) how these reflections translated into more realistic AP2.
Three data sources were used for data collection:
- Structured interviews with Lickert scales were used with seven students (self-selected) on the module.
- Analysis of 40 of 114 assignments - i.e. AP1 and AP2 for 20 students
- Responses from 123 module evaluation forms
The data was analysed to identify:
- How many students had completed the action plans to accompany their assignments
- How many changed the quality of their action plans as a result of that feedback
(for the work of 20 students)
- The extent to which tutor feedback on the action plans matched students' reflections - written up in AP2 - on (a) their ability to implement AP1 and (b) how these reflections translated into more realistic AP2.
No literature study preceded the research carried out in this particular case study.
Primary data findings
The main findings are as follows:
- Students are willing to give themselves feedback using the action plan template
- 'Accuracy' of the action plans was generally good with there being a significant - although not necessarily an explanatory - relationship between the marks obtained for the reflective essays and the accuracy of the feedback
- Based on their self-assessment, 59% of students acknowledged a need to change
The author of this case study provides reflective notes in his detailed report on the chosen methodology and how his choices have informed his findings, i.e. possible distortion because of self-selection of the respondents for the interviews, the research sample comprising 83% of the population and the relatively small sample of 20 for the assignment analysis.
Conclusions/recommendations for good feedback practice
- Students can be encouraged to give themselves feedback
- Students can give themselves accurate feedback
- There needs to be agreement between tutor and student on assessment criteria
A recent review has highlighted that the methodology most commonly employed to research social learning has been the individual case study. We draw on four examples of social learning research in the environmental and sustainability sciences from sub-Saharan Africa to reflect on possible reasons behind the preponderance of case study research in this field, and to identify common elements that may be significant for social learning research more generally. We find that a common interest in change oriented social learning, and therefore processes of change, makes case studies a necessary approach because long term process analyses are required that are sensitive to social-ecological contexts. Common elements of the examples reflected upon included: a focus on initiating, tracking and/or understanding a process of change toward sustainability; long term research; an action research agenda that involves reflecting on data with research participants; and temporal, process based analysis of data coupled with in-depth theoretical analysis. This paper highlights that there is significant scope for exploratory research that compares case studies of social learning research to generate a deeper understanding of social learning processes, and their relationship to human agency and societal change.