1. Assignment Brief Task:
these refer to the core assessment task
When a degree of autonomy in any of these text type features is expected at any stage of students’ assessment literacy development, then consider being explicit in the brief that this is the case.
" It was hard to be sure you knew everything you needed to do, it was all a bit worrying ..."
"It was only when i got the feedback that I understood what I had to do ... "
To ensure that students’ assessment task type schemas are activated and to maximise inclusivity:
Aim to increase the level of support in the brief in line with the level of student familiarity with the required task type.
For those assessment tasks students are likely to be very unfamiliar with, consider being highly explicit about the required task in the instructions. This supports all students and also ensures inclusivity in assessment by not disadvantaging those from an academic culture where the assignment task type is less commonly encountered. If such explicitness is not feasible, refer students to where this knowledge can be obtained, by for example, directing them within the brief itself to exemplars or relevant study skills guidelines.
For example, an increasingly common task type is a reflective diary. This is sometimes also referred to as a reflective statement, a reflective log, reflective commentary or reflective essay. It is an unknown type of task in many academic cultures so would require greater explicitness.
If students are at a stage of academic literacy development where they are already familiar with the required task type, or are expected to be autonomous in working out the appropriate characteristics of the required product of the task, then make this expectation explicit in the brief.
To ensure the overarching purpose of the assignment is immediately clear to students:
Ensure the central purpose of the assignment, i.e. why the student is being asked to do the task, is as explicit as possible by stating concisely the overarching learning aim or rationale. This helps ensure the assignment serves the purpose it was designed to.
For example, ‘The purpose of this assignment is for you to undertake secondary research in order to then evaluate the applicability of several theoretical models in the field.’
If however students are expected to determine the overarching purpose of the assessment task autonomously, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
To minimise student uncertainty and the time spent seeking clarification of what is expected in the task:
Aim to remove unnecessary ambiguity by giving serious consideration to the use of an open-ended task or one which provides a number of choices in task elements or assignment requirements.
For example, when offering students full choice in text type and in word count as in ‘use any format, any length as long as it answers the question’, this can result in undue worry and time spent with sources of study support.
and: ‘This assignment may be completed in pairs and in doing so you will have the opportunity to develop ideas with a fellow student. However, if you have a preference to work individually, you may do so’.
If however students are expected to deal autonomously with open-ended tasks and requirements at this stage of their studies, or an open-ended brief is provided in order to encourage creativity or staff-student constructive dialogue, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
To ensure students’ knowledge of language is activated immediately thus minimizing time spent seeking clarification of the expected discourse style:
Aim to be explicit about which academic functions you expect them to undertake. To do this, use commonly encountered key assignment task verbs such as ‘identify’, ‘critically evaluate’ and ‘justify’ in the instructions. These not only clarify the assessment functions that students are expected to perform but importantly, the discourse style that corresponds to these assignment task verbs.
If students are expected to be able to determine autonomously the assignment task verbs associated with a task, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
To ensure students are fully aware of all the components and stages involved in the assignment task:
Increase the amount of scaffolding in the brief by breaking down the task into its component parts and the sequence of stages needed to complete it. State these explicitly in the brief.
For example, use a flow chart to illustrate the stages of complex tasks and / or the relationship between the task components.
If the student is expected to work out the appropriate components and stages autonomously then be explicit about the need for them to do this in the brief.
To ensure students are aware of the place of theory in the assignment:
Consider making explicit the theoretical frameworks students should draw on, refer to or apply.
For example, ‘refer to at least two of the theoretical frameworks, X, Y and Z, that were covered during the semester’.
If at this stage of the students’ academic literacy development, autonomy in this element is one of the assessed learning outcomes and thus integral to the task, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
To ensure that students are as clear as possible about the research and other resource requirements of the assignment:
Consider being explicit about the required type and extent of research that is required. If secondary research is required, this should be made clear. Avoid generic statements such as: ‘It is expected you will employ a wide range of sources’. Indicate the minimum number of sources that are required. Give further guidance on what type of sources you expect students to use and where to locate these. Similarly, if there are other resources necessary to perform the task, such as a data set or other documentation, ensure this is included explicitly in the brief.
For example, the instruction: ‘It is expected you will base your critical review on at least four items to back up your critical review, in addition to the articles selected from the VLE: chapters in books, journal articles, research summaries. Some suggestions for reading are included in the module handbook’, is significantly more explicit than ‘It is expected you will employ a wide range of sources’.
If it is an integral part of the assessment that, at this stage of their academic literacy development, students are autonomous in determining the amount of research and the use and locating of sources, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
Task Reference Style
To ensure requests for clarification of requirements are kept to minimum:
Be explicit about the type of academic source referencing that is expected by stating the referencing style required and by clarifying whether a reference list and / or a bibliography is required.
If however students are expected to select the referencing style autonomously and this is one of the assessed learning outcomes, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
Task Word Count
To ensure requests for clarification of requirements are kept to minimum:
Be as explicit as possible about word count requirements. State what is and what is not included in the word count. Similarly, if there are several sections to an assignment, where possible indicate the proportion of the word count each should be allocated.
For example, a case study assignment task might include, amongst other sections, an executive summary, illustrations and tables, a list of references and appendices. Queries on whether or not such sections are included in the word count are very frequent. This task might also include a reflective statement. Queries about the length of such parts of assignments are also very frequent.
If, at this stage of their assessment literacy development, the aim is for students to decide for themselves the appropriate word length, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
To back up the written instructions and better equip the student to perform the task appropriately:
Consider, where the assignment has a complex set of sub tasks each of which contribute in turn to the next, including a timeline for the assessment task stages, preferably in diagram form.
If at this stage of the students’ assessment literacy development, it is expected that students work out and plan their own timeline, then this would not be appropriate.
To ensure students are able to access all possible means to clarify assignment requirements:
Consider stating explicitly how students can develop their understanding of what is expected, especially when the written instructions cannot be sufficient to clarify the assignment requirements due to the complexity of the task.
For example, refer students to elements of the assessment criteria or the feedback form that help understand requirements. Where staff-student dialogue is necessary, or student-student dialogue desirable, state clearly how and when this will take place.
If at this stage of their assessment literacy development, students are expected to exploit all available means of clarifying requirements autonomously, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
To avoid unnecessary requests for clarification and to highlight to students the level of autonomy required at this stage of their academic development:
Aim to be explicit about not being explicit. In other words, ensure wherever feasible, that students are aware that when something is not made explicit in the instructions, that this is deliberate as they are expected or required to be aware of or work it out for themselves.
If there are elements of the assessment task that you consider implicit and only knowable by other means than through the brief itself, such as for example, during a face-face teaching session or through constructive dialogue in a subsequent tutorial setting, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
"I ensure that instructions are clearly open to a broad interpretation to allow students to follow the brief in a creative way ... "
"Everyday I spend at least an hour clarifying to students what they have to do - it's so frustrating ...'