What happens when …

Image of a woman writing

your students use the Academic Skills Assignment Feedback service?

Here are some details that might help you to understand how this service works and why you should be recommending it to your students.

The process: Students submit their assignment draft online using the link at http://student.csu.edu.au/study/skills Their draft is sent to our external partner, Studiosity, for review by a language specialist. Within 24 hours, the student will receive feedback on the quality of their writing and referencing in the form of annotations within the text as well as an explanatory summary of the major issues that they should address and institutional resources they should use to more fully understand the concepts. This is not an editing and proofreading service, and specialists never comment on the content of the paper – only on its readability (e.g., structure of text and paragraphs, grammar, word choice, spelling, punctuation, cohesion, referencing, use of evidence to support claims). To ensure students are motivated and engaged rather than overwhelmed, not all instances or types of errors will be identified. Typically, the specialist will choose three or four types of errors which will have the most impact if addressed by the student.

The benefits: You, the lecturer and marker, get to read papers where meaning is less obscured by intrusive language errors and content knowledge is more visibly demonstrated. I’m not promising the paper will be as engrossing as a Dan Brown novel, but it should keep you focused on the subject matter a little more easily.

Students who use this service improve their writing skills incrementally and in the very compelling context of an assessment. This is the very definition of ‘the teaching moment’ – when the student is focused and ready to learn what they, individually, need to know. The learning and growth in confidence, of course, carries over to future tasks, ensuring they spend increasingly more time on disciplinary knowledge and skills instead of the mechanics of writing. The feedback we receive from students is overwhelmingly positive and appreciative.

In the event that the specialist identifies a student at academic or personal risk, they send me details, and my team (sensitively) follows up with the student.

Charles Sturt Academic Skills resources and services are recommended in the feedback, and specialists comply with our policies and practices, so the learning is also contextually-situated.

Some issues: Of course, any interaction with students has the potential to be misunderstood. Complaints end up at my door as I liaise directly with the Studiosity training and partnership managers. Here is what I’ve noticed about complaints:

  • There are relatively very few. In 2018, 10829 Charles Sturt assignments were reviewed. In total, I probably received about thirty complaints from students or their lecturers.
  • Of those complaints, the vast majority turned out to be unfounded. When I reviewed the feedback provided, I could honestly attest to its quality and value. The issue was typically inflated expectations of the service (i.e., expecting every mistake to have been identified and fixed), misinterpretation of the comments (i.e., willful or genuine inability to understand the extent of the issues), or a student misrepresenting the feedback provided (often in an attempt to gain higher marks). Most vexatious, though, are the claims that feedback indicated that students would do well in the assignment and the annoyance when this doesn’t turn out to be the case. For the record, not one of these particular claims has turned out to be true – I have never seen a specialist promise or predict a result, and students are told on the webpage before submission and in the feedback returned that the focus is only on ways to improve their writing.
  • The legitimate complaints were related to incorrect referencing advice or poor prioritization of issues. Every one of the issues I raised with the company resulted in changes of policy or retraining of the specialist concerned.

What should you do with this information?

  • Understand the value added to student learning by the Assignment Feedback Service and recommend it to your students.
  • Treat isolated student issues and negative perceptions of the outcomes of this service with the same degree of caution that you would any other issue – require them to be accountable for their opinions and provide supporting evidence.
  • Understand that students may be confused or indignant when a specific error that you may have identified was not picked up in feedback, but that the discrepancy is likely to be a natural consequence of the limitations of the type and quantity of advice provided and the different, but valid, priorities of educators.
  • If you do have cause for concern over the service generally or the feedback provided to an individual student, just let me know and I’ll look into it.

Debbie Wheeler, BJBS Academic Skills Coordinator

Email: dwheeler@csu.edu.au Tel:07 55294140