Building Assessment around Reading to Promote Academic Integrity


Dr. Sineád McNally (

Subject 5 ECTS module: EC207 Psychological Perspectives on Young Children’s Thinking and Learning
Discipline Early Childhood Education in the IOE, DCU
Level Third-year undergraduate students - level 8
Class Size circa. 60 students
Mode of Delivery Hybrid F2F and Online during COVID-19


Sinéad McNally is Assistant Professor in Psychology (birth to six) at the DCU Institute of Education where she teaches developmental psychology and research methods in early childhood.

Sinéad is Research Convenor for the School of Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education (ECE), and leads the Early Language and Learning Lab investigating young children's development in inclusive early education. Her research on early play, reading and STEM learning has been funded through Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council, the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South, and the Childhood Development Initiative. 

What is the module?

This is the third, and most specialised, of three psychology modules that students take on the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at the DCU IoE. The module covers key psychological theories of children’s early development and learning in ways that support students to apply these theories to early educational practice.

What is the overall assessment approach in this module?

This module is fully assessed through Continuous Assessment (CA). Students work in groups of three throughout the semester to review six pre-selected peer-reviewed original research articles. They have to collaboratively produce a 400-word review of each article, academically written in a coherent and succinct manner. Each review must identify the aims of the research, the methodology, and the implications/applications of the findings for early childhood education. Each piece of research and writing equates to 15% (a total of 90% of the module assessment). The remaining 10% of the CA is allocated to a self-assessment component, where the students assess their participation and engagement in the module.

What was your assessment challenge or problem?

One of the challenges we routinely face in undergraduate teaching is encouraging our students to read the research, especially original research such as peer-reviewed articles. There is often a reluctance to move beyond a prescribed book chapter, and even then a reliance on lecture notes primarily rather than reading more widely. If students are not reading research widely, then they have increasingly fewer opportunities to write about research. A lot of the problems or challenges we see with academic integrity arise from under-developed research literacy skills, especially in writing about research in one’s own words.

What assessment design did you use to promote academic integrity?

I designed the assessment to encourage students to engage in deep reading of original research resources and to develop academic writing skills. The aim was to help build their experience and engagement with the relevant literature, which in turn would give them the confidence to express their own informed opinions and views in a piece of academic writing. The assessment was designed to build the student's research and writing competence, thus promoting academic integrity. My rationale is that if students have engaged in the relevant literature they are more likely to express their own opinion rather than resort to plagiarism or cheating.

The research studies are pre-selected by me - they are all contemporary published studies, mostly my own research or a collaborator who I can invite to present their study to the class. Importantly, each study has a different research question and design/methodology so reviewing each study allows the students to engage with different types of research and consider how the findings apply to early childhood education.

Formative feedback was an important part of the assessment design. I used T-Rex, a virtual platform designed for researchers to work collaboratively. The groups developed their six reviews in T-Rex and invited me in at a time of their choice, to review their work in progress i.e. draft work.

What was the preparation time or lead-in time was required by you?

Preparation and lead-in time were minimal because I was drawing on my own research and expertise in the field of developmental psychology and child development. This is one of the strengths of drawing on one’s own research and it means that teaching about each study in class was very accessible for students. It also increased engagement with the material as students could instantly see that not only was this research meaningful to ECE but that it was conducted within our faculty – another layer of credibility to the teaching on research and research literacy as I had to ‘walk the walk’ on undertaking research that is meaningful to early childhood education. The research-teaching nexus became very clear and the teaching was clearly research-led. Research readings became more tangible and less abstract which went a long way to enhancing engagement and a sense of competency and confidence in reading research.

The greatest length of time was in preparing the protocol for the reviews and the marking criteria and the marking rubric. I always provide these at the beginning of the semester so that students can develop their skills in line with what is expected and indeed required for the assessment. And of course, providing formative feedback to 20 groups of students at least once during the semester on their draft reviews.

How did your students respond to this assessment approach?

This is the second year of rolling out this assessment and the feedback has been very positive. The students are engaged and share a sense of accomplishment when they complete a study that they previously may have found too daunting to read without the scaffolded support. So it’s about balancing the level of challenge so that it’s enough to motivate students while also ensuring the studies are relevant and accessible.

What advice would I give to other academics who would like to try this approach?

Just go for it if the reading piece is a concern for you. Pick pieces of research you love and are passionate about. If you already have a bank of research studies in your area, it’s a wonderful resource that requires minimal preparation to use as part of your assessment. Or if there are a set of readings that you feel are critical for advancing student knowledge and practice, then building your assessment around the readings ensures that that learning happens and that the skills are built through the assessment. As we know, assessment drives learning and students need the practice to learn how to write about research if we are to support them in academic integrity and avoid potential plagiarism issues. It’s a very user-friendly assessment that lends well to teaching around each topic. The approach can be adapted to increase the number of studies if students are experienced in their research skills.

Finally, remember to ensure the research pieces you use are aligned to your module learning outcomes.

Additional resources that might be helpful:

Link to podcast conversation about this assessment approach with Dr. Sineád McNally

Examples of literature used in this assessment:

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