Constructive alignment for deep learning: very short, argument-based laboratory reports

Alistair Kwan


This case study describes a short-report assessment and feedback cycle in a physics laboratory course for pre-medical students. Students began with standard laboratory manuals but branched off at will to investigate concepts, methods and properties that they did not understand. They were encouraged to compare results with others and to incorporate group data to better overcome noise and bias, as well as to develop an appreciation for the roles played by instrumentation and good technique. Each experiment was assessed through a short report in which students presented an empirical case for conclusions of their own choosing with the length strictly limited to one page. The guiding criterion for marking was that the report had to be persuasive and significant. The space limitation forced students to decide which argument to present, at what level of detail, with what supporting data, and in what formats. Students were thus engaged in higher cognitive processes not often invoked in introductory teaching. Feedback explicitly addressed the writing and focussed on formulating and clearly expressing a thesis. Though the traditional physics content was unchanged, the open-ended, overtly empiricist format led many students to comment on how interesting, medically relevant and enjoyable the physics was.

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