Faculty Today

How can assessment be used to promote student well-being? 

That’s what Kira Smith is thinking about. A graduate student in Integrated Studies in Education, she’s part of the Assessment and Feedback Group, which brings faculty, students, and staff together from across McGill to share strategies for taking evaluation beyond grading.  At ‘Lunch with the AFG’ on February 21st, Kira delivered a 5-minute “lightning presentation” to a packed room, making the case for giving students some choice as to how they’re assessed. A sense of control, she argued, can relieve stress and allow students to set themselves up for success by tailoring the weight of assignments and exams to their schedules and strengths. Instructors’ thoughts about how to make this work in practice vary, but it’s an idea the AFG will be chewing on.

Wellness came up a lot during the lunch event, and there are many ways assessment and feedback can factor into student well-being.

Giovanna Badia is a Liaison Librarian for the Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering, and she’s used to seeing students overwhelmed by the amount of reading they are required to do to write effective research papers. Her presentation at the AFG lunch outlined the efficient reading strategies she teaches in her workshops and included a handout to help students and instructors check on research papers while they’re in progress. Armed with these tools, as well as the knowledge that reading every relevant article front-to-back isn’t necessary, Giovanna says students feel a weight lifted and perform better. 

During his presentation, Physics professor Ken Ragan told attendees about an experiment he’s been trying in his lectures: online quantitative assessments. By gathering students into groups, posing questions, and providing a low-stakes opportunity for instant feedback, he’s hoping they walk away with a clearer idea of what they know and how to focus their studying. Despite a hiccup here and there, Ken says this strategy is working well for him and his students. 

Alejandra Barriales-Bouche and Sun-Young Kim, professors in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, are also looking to online tools for new assessment and feedback strategies with students’ well-being in mind. They pitched an alternative way for students to deliver oral classroom presentations: as pre-recorded videos, uploaded to the web. This approach eases stage fright and lets students edit for clarity so they communicate their ideas more effectively. Of course, students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from wellness-geared assessment strategies—a method like this also allows instructors to re-watch a presentation while grading it, and to provide precise, timestamped feedback. 

For an event that lasted just an hour and a half, the ground covered was impressive. The AFG is all about sharing, and a feeling of openness and generosity accompanied the presentations and the discussion that followed. It’s clear that bringing folks together from all corners of the McGill community to think about assessment can have positive impacts in classrooms and beyond. The AFG is always welcoming new members—get in touch if you’d like to join the conversation. 

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