Word count

At various points (forever) I have been pressed on the issue of wordcount, by students and colleagues. In the past, an issue that was frequently of concern to others was around equivalence – when multi-media is used how do we weigh the words? How many words does a picture count for, how many does a table or an animation count for. The conversation around this always felt arbitrary and very stifling especially when credit volume is measured by hours not words.

How many words is reasonable for an assignment?

Whether we suffix with,

i. to show learning

ii.  to appease systems and norms

… will inevitably generate different answers.
In working with different partners, colleagues, systems and students over a period of years it is plain to see that  the word count issue appears to be ingrained in perceptions, beliefs and practice and across the board. New outlooks which do away with governance by word count will be hard fought.

In grappling with this over-emphasised issue and ignoring the futility of the question (to self) I take comfort from Phil Race’s mantra …

There would be no more silly relationships between word counts and credit points.
For example, no more regulations stating that a given number of credit points = 3000 words. Such ‘equivalences’ encourage low-level ‘word-spinning’, and give advantage to students who are good at ‘waffling’, and disadvantage students who are learning in a 2nd language. Shorter word-constrained tasks (such as a 200-word – exactly – summary, or a 150-word argument against something, or a 300-work review of three sources, and so on) generate student work (and thinking) of a higher quality, and take far less time to mark, and make marking much more reliable, and just about eliminate plagiarism possibilities.


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