In 2019, I became the unit director in Economic Principles, a compulsory unit for first year undergraduate students in Accounting and Finance. Even though students are highly-skilled and the entry requirements for these courses are strict, the students’ writing skills seemed relatively less advanced. For most students, English is not their first language and it takes time to adjust to the requirements of such rigorous curriculum. Despite our efforts, we felt students needed a different type of support and, therefore, I designed a staged assessment whose main aim was to help students understand how to structure and write essays, which had a positive income on their exam performance.
The assessment is summative but only bears a small weight (currently 20% – previously 10%*) and requires students to work in groups. Each group is asked to select a real world example and connect it with a topic covered in the course. The first stage of the assessment is that students have the opportunity to give a 10-minute optional presentation during their class and receive oral feedback. The second stage, which is compulsory, is to submit a 750-word essay, as a group. The advantages of this assessment is that students receive feedback on their work from the other team members. Additionally, groups that opt for the presentation have the opportunity to receive feedback from their tutors and the other students in each class. This feedback can then be used to improve their essays. Finally, working in group to write an essay means that collaboration and peer feedback continues until the very end of the group project. We observed that the essay quality improved both for during the assessment and in the exam. It is likely that the groups that currently volunteer for the presentation are more motivated. Nonetheless, in previous years, when the student number permitted it, presentations were compulsory for all groups and essay quality was even better.
Asking students to give a presentation might appear as somewhat irrelevant to improving students’ essay writing skills but it is actually pivotal. The limited time students have to present their topic, means that they need to focus on the most important aspects of their project. Following a similar structure to the one needed for an essay, introduction – main topic – conclusion, comes as more natural because know that their audience is not aware of their selected topic. As a result, students are led to consider these aspects for the presentation which are extremely valuable for the next stage, the essay. Given the low word limit, students need to be very selective on the material they will include and to ensure there is a good balance between theory, graphs and data.
ChatGPT has attracted a lot of interest lately because of the implications it has on Higher Education, in particular when it comes to assessments. In my view, such tools are less likely to be used during staged assessments but, even if they are, the impact will be smaller compared to single stage assessments. Having students assessed at different points in time and measuring their performance through different tasks and against different learning outcomes means that receiving extra help in one stage, through the use of AI or other sources, might have negative implications for the next stages when such help will not be relevant or available. Additionally, having stages where students work in groups can mitigate the probability of collusion because, if detected, students risk being penalised even if they were not the ones using the tools directly. It is worth mentioning that both ChatGPT and Turnitin have developed technologies that detects the use of AI tools and, even though, these tools are still not perfect, technological advancements towards this direction will be very helpful to educators.
*Due to accreditations related to these programmes, 80% of the assessment is a written exam.
University of Bristol Guidance for staff: Impact of Artificial Intelligence, such as ChatGPT, in Assessments