Designing and delivering learning activities to 300+ students is challenging. A large cohort of students means diversity in prior knowledge, skills, and abilities that need to be recognised to ensure that all students benefit from a course. Providing effective feedback to such a high number of students is a difficult task which requires resources and time, often lacking. Yet all these challenges need to be surpassed to offer students a valuable learning experience.
Biomedical sciences 2 (BMS2), a large undergraduate course for second-year students, was designed with these obstacles in mind. BMS2’s main objective is to prepare students effectively for junior Honours. Students should, as a result of taking this course, have gained a foundational understanding of core concepts in the disciplines of biomedical sciences as well as core competencies in scientific learning and disciplinary practice, such as scientific writing, critical thinking, and data analysis and interpretation.
The design of BMS2 aims to establish a better balance between formative and summative assessments, and to re-establish assessment and feedback practices as core learning activities rather than as remedial ‘satellite’ activities happening post-learning. To do so, in-course assessments are fully integrated with preparatory online and face-to-face learning activities, and with multimodal feedback opportunities.
To ensure that the feedback is effective and that students gain as much as possible from these tasks, feedback is accompanied by appropriate guidance via small group tutorials on how to ‘decode’ the feedback received and how to act upon it. Students are encouraged to draw an action plan based on their feedback by identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and by reflecting on what they can to do to improve. They then discuss this during specific feedback sessions where they meet their marker.
The course also provides numerous feedback opportunities on the students’ understanding of the course materials. Lectures and practical classes are accompanied by online review quizzes for students to do in their own time. Quizzes provide automated feedback on the students’ answers, helping them to understand their mistakes and to identify which key course content they need to review.
These diverse learning activities are well received by the students. They especially appreciate the online review quizzes and the opportunity to discuss with their marker. The integrated assessment and feedback practices have helped students to better understand marking criteria and what’s expected from their work. The long-lasting benefits of integrated assessment and feedback practices on the students’ skills development and their conveyance to Year 3 have been investigated in a PTAS funded project.