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In this issue of CDTL Brief on Research and Classroom Practices, NUS colleagues discuss ways of student engagement across various disciplines in the University.

August 2009, Vol. 12 No. 4 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Customising Continuous Assessment Exercises
 
Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo
Department of Real Estate
 

Continuous assessments such as essays, quizzes, individual and/or group projects constitute an important part of university courses. Designing an effective continuous assessment could supplement and reinforce classroom teaching, and sustain students’ interest in the subject.

A group project involves solving an integrated set of problems. The project can be demanding in scope and time requirement. Division of labour and teamwork are necessary to ensure that the project can be completed on time. In all group projects, it was not uncommon to hear feedback about freeriders and students’ inability to see the ‘big picture’ particularly when work is divided among the group. Due to time constraint, some members could focus only on his/her assigned portion of the project and students were left with little time to share inputs and discuss key issues in the process.

In Semester 2, Academic Year 2008/2009, I was assigned to teach a General Education Module, GEM2013 “Real Estate Finance”. Instead of combining multiple issues into a single project, I took the opportunity to test the effectiveness of breaking an integrated project into small but related parts. Students were given the assignment in the middle of the semester and had to complete the project independently within a tight deadline.

In order to allow progressive learning, I designed a 3-part project on real estate finance centred on a young couple planning to purchase their matrimonial home—a four-room HDB flat located in Fernvalle Road, Sengkang. The three parts of the project were structured such that students are able to apply concepts they have learnt from lectures progressively and incrementally in providing financial advice to the couple. Table 1 provides a summary of the case study.

In the process of working on the project, students were required to survey various commercial bank loans and evaluate a selected loan option for the couple. For learning purposes, students were also allowed to choose a HDB concessionary loan, which is technically less complex for analysis. In parts II and III, simulated long-term interest rates were given (see Figure 1), and students were required to peg their interest rates to the simulated rates if adjustable rate mortgages were used in the earlier analysis. Each part of the project was to be completed in two weeks. I commented on students’ work at each stage of the project so that they could revise their assumptions before starting on subsequent parts of the project.

The project structure gives students flexibility in applying real estate financing concepts incrementally and progressively, and also tested their willingness and readiness to take on more challenges by choosing more complex mortgage options in the analysis.

While some student felt that the freedom to set the scenario injected realism into the case, there were difficulties in defining the scope of the problem. Defining the assumptions and scenarios for the case required students to spend more time and effort on fact finding and ground research which as one student commented: “exposed [us] to a steeper learning curve where we have to conduct research and serious preparation in order to come up with a viable solution.” Another student said: “I had to spend more time to understand the scenario and do some research on what is relevant and what is not relevant.”

Some students liked the latitude they had in defining the problem: “it does force us to think, sometimes creatively…This is in contrast to clearly defined problems in which everyone does the same thing.” Others felt uncomfortable with the problem’s open-ended nature: “I was unsure if my assumptions were appropriate, or if my work was good enough and able to meet the project requirements.” Another concern shared by many students was how the project would be graded because of variations in complexity and difficulty levels in the project.

Table 1. Timeline and development of case study

Dividing the project into three small but related parts also received mixed responses from students. While I managed to incorporate incremental and progressive learning into the course, as one student said: “they help enhance the learning process as each small part of the project can be related back to the corresponding lecture topics”, there were others who were frustrated in having to revise project assumptions and abort some earlier work to align with information that was realised in stages as the project progressed.

Figure 1. Simulated long-term interest rates

Many students suggested that the case information for the whole project could be given upfront though they are required to complete each part in stages. This could reduce redundant work as the project progresses, but it will not be able to simulate how information changes in a real life scenario. One way to improve the learning process will be to provide more detailed interim comments. Others also suggested that by sharing interim results of selected cases and allowing time for discussion in class could promote more interactive learning.

The progressive and customised assessment exercises were time consuming, but this process gives students the flexibility to set different scenarios and derive solutions to problems as opposed to solving problems based on a predefined set of assumptions.

 

 
 
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Action Research in Teaching
   
Major Challenges Instructors Face in Teaching Undergraduate Contemporary Life Sciences
   
Small Group Teaching—Get and Give 100% the ‘Old-fashioned’ Way: Perspectives from the Pathology Classroom
   
Two Strategies to Facilitate Active Learning in Large Classes
   
Using Short Stories as an Instructional Tool for Teaching Human Anatomy in the Classroom
   
Customising Continuous Assessment Exercises