Case Study

Using Cadmus at the University of Melbourne

A/Prof Robert Day
A/Prof Robert Day School of Biosciences, The University of Melbourne

For some years, I have been concerned about the ability of students to construct logical explanations of issues. As a result of large classes, most assessment is in the form of multiple choice questions, in schools and in first year tertiary education classes. The result is that students focus on learning lists of “facts”, rather than on how to understand and explain complex processes.

An example of the importance of this in biology, is student’s ability to understand and explain how particular structures of animals allow them to function effectively in movement, feeding, or other requirements of life. As evolution involves progressive alteration of structures to make them function more efficiently, or changes in structure that allow for new functions, understanding this evolutionary process must necessarily build on an earlier understanding of how structure relates to function.

Thus I believe that students need instruction and feedback in how to construct logical explanations early in their learning of biology. I am sure that this applies in other fields. I worked some time ago with a group of academics from engineering, medicine, statistics, and veterinary science; and we all agreed that students need, and often lack, practice and feedback in how to construct concise, logical explanations. This skill is not only key in gaining high marks in exams for advanced subjects, but also key in performing well in many business and government positions. The old adage (source unknown) is “If you cannot write your idea on the back of my business card, I am not interested.”

My previous attempts to provide students with good formative and summative assessment of short essays, submitted during the semester, were disappointing, as there was clear evidence of students copying material, then thwarting the Turnitin checking process by small alterations to disguise the copied material. Worse, there were strong indications that students had bought essays written by others.

“I have found that Cadmus is an ideal platform to use for students to submit such essays for assessment.”

The space can be used by students to construct a set of notes before the essay writing – they can research a topic in advance. The software then allows me to be reasonably sure that the student has written the essay, and has not copied in slabs of material from the internet.

Our assessment process provides formative assessment by linking a comment to each item marked in the essay. These marks were for both content information and essay logic and structure, so that students received feedback on why they lost marks, and how they could improve the content information and the logic and structure of their essay. Our surveys of the class have shown that students were very satisfied with the Cadmus experience.

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Tell us about yourself. What university are you from and what’s your role there? We’ll get back to you to discuss more about Cadmus.