NYU Sydney Lecturer Fran Molloy Discusses Peer and Self-Assessment in Environmental Journalism

photo-faculty-fran-molloyFran Molloy is an experienced Australian freelance journalist, editor and educator whose work is regularly published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, ABC Health and Science Online, G Magazine, Medical Observer and many other Australian and international outlets. Such international outlets include the South China Morning Post, UK Overseas, Whole Life Times in the US and South Africa’s Business Day. Her writing specialties include environment, science, health and technology and she is also a part-time academic who has taught journalism over the last decade at several Australian universities: University of Technology, Sydney; University of NSW and Southern Cross University, Lismore. She teaches a course on Environmental Journalism at NYU Sydney.

 

Peer and Self-Assessment in Environmental Journalism in Sydney

Assessment is, of course, a critical part of academic learning. It can also be a thorny one: I’m sure I am not alone in wondering if I’m using the best methods to assess those critical learning outcomes I expect for my class.

Environmental Journalism students visit NSW Parliament House - with Mark Eels (left) and Fran Molloy (right)

Environmental Journalism students visit NSW Parliament House – with Mark Eels (left) and Fran Molloy (right)

At the NYU Sydney global campus, I’ve found our regular Faculty meetings not just a great source of shared knowledge but also a cross-disciplinary delight.

The size of NYU’s global campuses may be viewed by some as a drawback; but I have consistently found Sydney’s compact campus a big advantage, exposing all of us to a great range of pedagogies and systems.

Here, chemistry lecturers share their teaching methods with anthropologists, media studies and psychology teachers swap notes on student engagement and finance and drama professors discuss ways to manage grade expectations.

After talking about peer assessment with an NYU Sydney economics tutor and historian, and about computer-based assessment with a biology professor, last semester I introduced a new assessment method for an existing assessment task.

NYU Sydney Environmental Journalism students on the Sydney Harbour foreshore, walking through protected bushland

NYU Sydney Environmental Journalism students on the Sydney Harbour foreshore, walking through protected bushland

In the Environmental Journalism course at NYU Sydney, students must present to their classmates a round-up of the past weeks’ environment news and then, must analyse one news article in-depth, involving the class in a critique of their chosen piece. The assessment continues throughout the semester and I find it helps students recognise and evaluate various aspects of journalistic writing.

This is a clearly-defined assessment task, with outcomes that are transparent and immediately apparent to the whole class.

For this reason, I’ve found that this task very well-suited to peer and self-assessment.

To grade each presentation, I used a Google Form, with a clear rubric embedded, which I generate for each presenter. At the start of each class, I email the appropriate form to each student (including the presenter). Immediately following the presentation, students assess the presenter – most complete the form via their smartphone. They grade four aspects of the news roundup (succinct summary, context and publication details given, overall quality) and four aspects of the media analysis (appropriate story selection, summarising story quality, discussion and critical analysis).

Students use a 5‐point Likert scale, which McAlpine (2006) found a useful method for peer assessment of a presentation. Google Forms feeds their responses into a Google Sheets document, and it’s easy to then derive an average mark (which includes the student’s own self-assessment).

Gielen et al (2011) noted that peer assessment can encourage the active participation of students in the classroom. That was certainly an effect I noticed.

I believe that the knowledge that they would shortly assess their fellow student heightened students’ attention spans; they were invested in the delivery of the presentation because they would be partly responsible for its outcome.

Searby and Ewers (1997) and Somervell (1993) also posit that shifting responsibility for assessment from the teacher to the student can lead to a greater democracy within the classroom.

NYU Sydney Environmental Journalism students at Taronga Wharf overlooking Sydney Harbour

NYU Sydney Environmental Journalism students at Taronga Wharf overlooking Sydney Harbour

Small classes and a more relaxed Australian academic culture do mean that classrooms here tend to the informal, so I am not sure if that’s an effect I can easily judge.

But for me, there has been another interesting outcome: students who perform an assessment task which will be peer-reviewed adhere far more closely to assessment criteria than they do for other tasks that are not peer-reviewed.

I also found that there was remarkable consensus in the grade that students awarded presenters. Perhaps in itself, this consensus indicates a more democratic classroom environment.

And finally – now that the assessment responsibility can be shared, I find that my own enjoyment of my students’ presentations has increased substantially.

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References

Gielen, Sarah et al. “Goals Of Peer Assessment And Their Associated Quality Concepts”. Studies in Higher Education 36.6 (2011): 719-735. DOI: 10.1080/03075071003759037

MacAlpine, J. M. K. “Improving And Encouraging Peer Assessment Of Student Presentations”. CAEH 24.1 (1999): 15-25. Web.

Searby, Mike and Tim Ewers. “An Evaluation Of The Use Of Peer Assessment In Higher Education: A Case Study In The School Of Music, Kingston University”. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 22.4 (1997): 371-383. Web.

Somervell, Hugh. “Issues In Assessment, Enterprise And Higher Education: The Case For Self‐Peer And Collaborative Assessment”. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 18.3 (1993): 221-233. Web.