Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Critical thinking, dissertations, higher education, student essays, student writing

Writing as assessment

This weekend I helped a colleague to grade some student assignments and it got me to thinking about writing as assessment. As a manager I always say that I would rather help someone move a body in the middle of the night, than to help them with marking. I know that there is quite a discussion online about student writing and I have not read enough of it to write anything sensible, but after ploughing through those “research proposals” I do want to ask some questions.

First-off, I just want to say that I do believe that it is important to have students make their thinking and reasoning visible through writing assignments. This can be short or long essays, research papers or “articles”, whatever you want to call them. It is a way to demonstrate the 4C’s: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication. Being able to write simply and clearly will benefit anyone, everywhere, always.

But how can we go about this in a undergraduate Economics course? There is no shortage of topics, my questions are about practical challenges. The groups are large, ranging from 1200 first years, 450 second years and 180 third year students. Thus writing assignments present a lot of marking. How much individual-specific feedback can you give? If you don’t have more than one essay, what use is the feedback? How do you deal with plagiarism?

Maybe there is someone out there who can share some ideas?

I suppose that having a writing assignment (with all its trouble and flaws) is better than having none. Maybe it is possible to use peer-evaluation for the first essay of the semester and have the lecturer grade the second one? Or you can try and get a bunch of post-grads to help read. Or the lecturers can share the load. Turn-it-in helps a bit.

I would love to hear from other academic economists on this. Are you still giving writing assignments? How do do the grading and feedback? Has anyone tried alternative approaches? Please leave a comment…

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