Student Voice

Student Perspectives on Assessment in Human Geography

Assessment methods human geography

By Student Voice


At the heart of improving teaching and assessment processes in human geography lies the understanding of student perspectives. This area of study has seen significant changes, especially in the way assessments are conducted. It is key for staff and institutions alike to look into different assessment methods, including the integration of student voice, text analysis, and student surveys, to ensure they are meeting the needs of their students. An important aspect of this process is recognising the variety of ways in which students can demonstrate their understanding and skills. Traditional exam-based assessments might not always be the best way to gauge a student's grasp of human geography. Therefore, starting on this process of exploration into diverse assessment methods can transform teaching and learning experiences for students. By considering student feedback and engaging with innovative assessment practices, institutions can make clear improvements in how they assess student performance. This discussion sets the stage for a deeper look into specific aspects of assessment in human geography, such as the clarity of assessment criteria, the diversity of assessment formats, and the timing and structure of deadlines, all of which play a key role in enhancing student satisfaction and academic outcomes.

Assessment Clarity and Expectations

One of the most important areas to focus on when starting the process of enhancing assessment methods in human geography is the clarity of assessment criteria and expectations. It cannot be overstated how important it is for students to understand exactly what is expected of them. Clear guidance and consistent marking criteria are not just administrative niceties; they are fundamental to ensuring fairness and boosting student confidence. When students know what is expected, they are better prepared to meet those expectations, leading to higher satisfaction and, importantly, better academic performance. Staff should aim to provide clear, accessible explanations of assessment tasks and what constitutes a good performance in each case. This includes not only the written descriptions but also engaging in open discussions where students can ask questions and seek clarification. The process of understanding assessment criteria should be as straightforward as possible, removing any ambiguity that might hinder a student's ability to perform to the best of their capabilities. This focus on clarity and transparency is also a key step towards building a trusting and supportive learning environment where students feel they are being assessed fairly and with respect to their individual efforts and understanding.

Diversity in Assessment Formats

Exploring the variety of assessment methods is key to recognising and supporting the diverse learning styles present among human geography students. The importance of offering a mixed bag of coursework, exams, and practical assessments cannot be overstressed. Each student has a unique way of learning and expressing their understanding, and by providing a wide range of assessment formats, institutions can cater to these differences effectively. This approach not only helps students to engage more deeply with the material but also encourages creativity and critical thinking. For instance, while exams may test knowledge recall under time constraints, coursework can give students the space to research thoroughly and express complex ideas. Similarly, practical assessments can offer real-world applications of theoretical knowledge, which is particularly important in a field as dynamic as human geography. By implementing a diverse array of assessment types, staff can help foster a more inclusive and supportive learning environment. This process allows students to showcase their strengths in various contexts and helps prepare them for the varied challenges they will face in their future careers. Furthermore, this important shift towards a more varied assessment model can make the learning process more engaging and meaningful for students, encouraging a deeper connection with the subject matter.

Group Work: A Double-Edged Sword

Group assignments often spark a variety of responses among human geography students. On one hand, they offer a realistic glimpse into the collaborative nature of professional work in the field. Students learn to combine different skills, share perspectives, and work towards a common goal, fostering important interpersonal and problem-solving abilities. These experiences are particularly important in human geography, where understanding diverse viewpoints and working in teams can be key to tackling complex issues. However, group work also presents clear challenges. Feedback from students highlights concerns over fairness in effort and contributions, leading to stress and potential conflicts within groups. The fear of one's grade being affected by another's lack of contribution is a serious worry for many. This situation calls for staff to look into creative solutions to ensure fairness and maintain the value of group work. One approach could be to offer optional group work opportunities, allowing students who thrive in team settings to opt in, while not penalising those who prefer to work independently. This balanced strategy could help maintain the benefits of collaborative learning, while addressing the fairness concerns that many students have raised. Through such measures, group work in human geography can continue to be an important, though nuanced, tool for teaching and learning.

The Timing and Structure of Deadlines

Addressing the scheduling and spacing of assessment deadlines is key to helping students manage their workloads and mitigate stress. By staggering deadlines, institutions provide students with the opportunity to prepare thoroughly for each assignment, ensuring a deeper engagement with the material. This approach benefits both the student's understanding and their overall wellbeing. Human geography programs, in particular, cover a wide area of topics and skills, making the careful planning of deadlines even more important. When deadlines are too closely packed, students might find themselves overwhelmed, leading to rushed work and reduced quality of understanding. Alternatively, spaced deadlines allow for a more measured learning process, contributing to better retention of information and higher quality coursework. Staff should aim to create a deadline structure that supports the goal of comprehensive education, taking into account the feedback from student surveys. These surveys can highlight particular stress points in the academic calendar, providing valuable insights for adjusting assessment schedules. Importantly, this careful consideration of deadline scheduling should be communicated clearly to students, enabling them to plan their study time effectively. In practice, this might involve starting the academic year with a clear outline of all major deadlines, allowing students to organise their priorities and workloads from the outset. This kind of transparency and foresight in planning not only helps students to manage their time but also fosters a sense of security and support throughout the learning process.

Feedback Quality and Timeliness

A critical look at how the specificity and timeliness of feedback can enhance or hinder the formative learning process, with suggestions for improvements in feedback practices to support student progress. Ensuring feedback is both specific and delivered promptly is essential in supporting students’ learning curves. When feedback is vague or late, it can leave students feeling lost, unable to understand how to improve their work before their next assessment. This is why staff need to place high value on providing detailed, constructive feedback soon after assignments are submitted. Such prompt response helps students to digest the information and apply it effectively to future tasks. Another important aspect to consider is incorporating the student voice into feedback processes. Asking students for their input on the kind of feedback they find helpful can lead to more tailored, effective feedback strategies. Making this a two-way communication process not only improves the relevance of the feedback but also empowers students, making them feel valued and understood. To support this, institutions might look into training sessions focussed on enhancing staff's feedback skills, ensuring that all feedback is actionable and timely. By addressing these areas, staff can significantly bolster the formative process, guiding students more clearly towards achieving their academic goals.

Navigating the Final Year: Dissertations and Coursework

The final year of study presents a unique set of pressures for human geography students. Among these, balancing the demands of dissertation work with other coursework stands out as a particularly important challenge. Dissertations are a significant part of the final year, requiring a deep focus and dedication. Students must not only research thoroughly but also manage their time efficiently, often while juggling other assignments. This balancing act can be daunting, but it is not insurmountable. Staff can play a key role in guiding students through this process. Providing clear timelines, regular check-ins, and accessible support can help students manage their workloads more effectively. Time management strategies become crucial, as does the ability to prioritise tasks based on deadlines and the level of work required. Moreover, encouraging students to engage with their peers through study groups or forums can provide them with additional support and motivation. Another key consideration is ensuring students have access to resources and advice for their dissertation work, which may differ significantly from their other coursework. Staff can facilitate this by organising workshops or offering one-on-one sessions focusing on research skills, writing techniques, and stress management. As the final year progresses, student surveys can offer valuable feedback on the effectiveness of these support measures, allowing staff to adjust their approach as needed. Importantly, by fostering an environment where students feel supported and confident in their abilities, institutions can help ease the transition through the final year, ensuring that students are able to focus on producing their best work.

The Impact of External Factors on Assessment

In recent years, the way we handle assessment in higher education, particularly in human geography, has been significantly influenced by external factors, with the COVID-19 pandemic being the most prominent example. This period of uncertainty led to a rapid shift towards online learning, altering traditional approaches to both teaching and assessment. Staff and students alike found themselves navigating a completely changed landscape, where fieldwork opportunities, a key component of human geography, were suddenly inaccessible, and online assessments became the norm.

The transition to online learning platforms presented both challenges and opportunities in the assessment area. On one hand, it pushed institutions to look into and adopt more flexible and inclusive assessment methods, acknowledging the diverse circumstances of students. It offered a chance to rethink the role of assessments and how they can be structured to truly reflect student understanding and learning. On the other hand, the immediacy of the transition put pressure on staff to quickly adapt materials and assessment methods, while students had to adjust their study habits and learning styles to fit this new format.

Another important external factor influencing assessment methods is the growing acknowledgment of the student voice. Institutions are increasingly recognising the importance of involving students in decisions about their learning and assessment processes. This shift towards more democratic educational practices encourages a more personalised learning experience and acknowledges that students have valuable insights into what assessment methods are most effective and engaging for them.

Through these challenges, the resilience and adaptability of both students and teaching staff have come to the forefront. The experiences of the last few years have underscored the importance of flexibility in assessment methods, illuminating the path towards more innovative, inclusive, and student-centred approaches to evaluation in human geography.

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