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Pre-Assessment Podcasts: Supporting Diverse Learning Communities

15 Sep 2020 | Aislinn O’Connell and colleagues As universities around the world try to adjust to online teaching, the Diversity and Innovation Group in the School of Law and Social Sciences at Royal Holloway share their experiences of trialling pre-assessment podcasts for supporting their diverse student body.

Conclusion and Take-Home Point

Students often find assessment and marking criteria complex and generic, meaning pre-submission guidance is just as important as post-submission feedback. We piloted pre-assessment video podcasts to enable students to better understand what was expected from them, which allowed us to be proactive rather than reactive. As podcasts were devised for specific coursework assessments, this means they could be tailored to offer targeted guidance in relation to the relevant marking criteria, including requirements over and above the generic marking criteria.

More specifically, these podcasts provided additional support for students with specific learning difficulties, caring/financial responsibilities, health conditions and international students who may have added pressures on their time. The use of pre-recorded video podcasts enabled students to engage with the assessment information when and where suited them best and at their own speed; consequently, they are an accessible tool suitable for our diverse student body. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, they are especially appropriate, as their asynchronous nature makes them a flexible and accessible feed-forward resource.


In order to demystify the assessment process and support students when preparing for their assessment, we each produced short video podcasts for coursework assessments on our modules. These were recorded using Panopto, either in our staff offices or on our personal devices.

We wanted the videos to have two characteristics. They had to be engaging, in that students should want to watch the whole video (although podcast engagement is a wider concept than this). They also had to provide useful and effective guidance.

We foresaw two barriers to student engagement. First, length: evidence shows that supplemental podcasts should be short, so we limited our length to 10 minutes. Second, access to technology: Panopto is embedded into our VLE and supported by our E-Learning team; by using it, we ensured that the team and our students would have access to IT support.

In terms of utility, we had to ensure that consistent and helpful information was included. We agreed that our videos would include the following:

  • Reference to specific aspects of the marking criteria.  Enhancing assessment literacy was the key driver for the project. We agreed to explain the assessment question, using examples of work already completed in seminars to illustrate sample approaches to it, and relate this to the marking criteria.
    For example, we would indicate the difference between a ‘description’ and an ‘analysis’ by suggesting that defining X would simply describe, whereas assessing X like author Y did in seminar Z would be an example of analysis.
    We would also discuss what level of further research and reading would be appropriate to produce a high-quality answer. Finally, we took the opportunity to underline the importance of referencing, and to refer them to sources of support from the library.
  • Scaffolding with course content. Our advice needed to refer to the syllabus; but at the same time, we did not want to tell students what to write. We decided that we would remind students where we had studied the relevant topic(s), including reference to the readings that had been set in seminars. This provided them with guidance, not answers.

In short, we designed our pre-assessment podcasts to underline the following principles for assessment literacy which can be abbreviated as ‘AAI’:

Academic Integrity – the opportunity to discover what constitutes academic misconduct in terms of plagiarism, collusion etc. 

Alignment – aligning the assessment with the learning outcomes and,

Instructional – letting students know what tutors are looking for in terms of standards and expectations in the marking criteria. 


The engagement data were drawn from 536 students who completed one or more of nine assessments for which a pre-assessment podcast was developed. These pre-assessment podcasts were developed on four undergraduate and three postgraduate modules.   

Levels of engagement were high, with almost three quarters of the students (74%) viewing or downloading the podcast on at least one occasion. Furthermore, on the two modules where pre-assessment podcasts were created for successive assignments, engagement increased for the second podcast, which suggests that students found the podcasts useful.

 The students engaged with the podcasts in different ways; some listened to the whole podcast on one or more occasions, while others listened to the podcast in sections.  The number of engagements per student ranged between 1-10, and repeat engagement was high with more than 60% engaging on more than one occasion.  We also found that, on average, 90% of podcast content was delivered. This sustained, and often repeated, engagement again adds weight to the argument that students found the podcasts to be a helpful resource. 

Students can engage with podcasts in a way that suits them, which consequently supports diverse learning within HE. Video podcasts are beneficial for creating solid pre-assessment feedback alongside post assessment feedback, supporting students and enabling diverse approaches to assessment preparation. 

Our use of pre-assessment podcasts has had several practical impacts:

  • Students developed assessment literacy using AAI – Academic Integrity, Alignment, and Instruction
  • Students engaged regularly and frequently with assessment guidance
  • Students posed fewer questions to staff members about assessment specifics, suggesting fewer worries about the assessments

As a straightforward and effective initiative, pre-assessment video podcasts have multiple benefits for staff and students in flexible learning.

Aislinn O’Connell, David Yuratich, Michelle Webster, Rita D’Alton-Harrison, Pinar Canga, Stefan Brown are a team of academics at Royal Holloway, University of London researching diversity and the awarding gap in the departments of Law and Criminology and Social Work.

Find more about and join Advance HE's Assessment in Law Collaborative Project.

This project will provide an opportunity for leaders and educators in Law to collaborate and drive forward innovation in assessment during a time of additional challenge.

Next month, 28 October, Advance HE will hold its Assessment and Feedback Symposium 2020: Assessment and feedback in the pandemic era: A time for learning and inclusion. Find out more and book your place

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