Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Let the assessment stress begin!

I've been marking furiously over the last couple of weeks, it hasn't been so bad, the good thing about tutoring subjects over a couple of years is that you get very efficient at marking.  You know exactly what you're looking for, you know the content inside out, and it's easy to make value judgements on the quality of the students' work.  Although I feel for my colleagues who are teaching subjects for the first time around, some of them take three times as long to mark the same amount of work and will still only be paid for the one or two hours allocated for marking.  Of course the stress associated with assessment is mostly an issue for the students.

It is very difficult to see students struggle with their workloads, but there are those wonderful moments when you can help a student overcome their struggles and successfully submit their assessment.  Sometimes you can build a relationship with a student and its easy to work through their problems, however there are students who you can't help out.  They're usually the students that have been absent throughout the semester, struggling at home - maybe for very legitimate reasons they haven't been able to attend class - and now that it's come to the crunch, they turn up to a tutorial and melt down.  With these students I never know how to help them.  I don't know how they've been coping with the content, I don't know their situation at uni or outside of uni, I just don't know them.  This means you and the student enter into this awkward conversation where they want to tell you an elaborate personal story about their situation, even though you're mostly strangers, and you have to try to digest this information in relation to their assessment.  Even worse are the emails from students who are stressed about their assessment and confess to having never attended class (generally these emails make me incensed!  I have to wait a while to respond to them)- how do you respond to these emails?

Last Friday I had one student attend their first class, a tutorial in which assessment was due, and the student burst into uncontrollable tears.  I spent about an hour with the student to talk through how to strategise their work for the next piece of assessment.  There are those standard processes you go through, suggesting the student go to counseling, apply for extensions and make sure they communicate their problems as soon as they arise and not let it build up.  Although these responses all seem very cold and not very sympathetic to the student.  Basically I'm ill-equipped to handle these situations - I've had no training on how to help students handle these stresses, especially when I don't know them well at all.  The other thing this issue brings up is the value of face to face teaching.  I couldn't find any literature on how more contact hours might alleviate the stress of uni - but I think it would be an interesting study.                      

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