Assessment and Feedback: Adopting new processes

Getting Started…

This is one of a series of guides collating evidence and learning from the 23 projects within the JISC Building Capacity programme (2010/11). Each is focused on a common institutional strategic aim, describing how projects built their capacity to meet that aim and how what worked in their context, could work in yours. The guides are written to be “just enough to get started” rather than all-encompassing.

This guide addresses one aspect of the broad area of student assessment and feedback, discussing some ideas for different processes that institutions could easily adopt. In common with many other institutions, the University of Keele has a institutional objectives relating to improving the quality and usefulness of feedback to students on their work, and preventing plagiarism. Concerns had also been expressed about the poor legibility of hand-written feedback. The aim of the project was to use technology to improve assessment and feedback processes across the institution. The University of Wales, Newport (UWN) also aimed to embed innovative assessment processes following the relocation of Newport Business School and the design, film and media elements of the School of Art, Media and Design. Their Building Capacity project aimed to support the use of technology to help to develop the pedagogy involved in the feedback aspect of a larger electronic coursework handling project.

What are the takeaway ideas you could use in your context?

A series of twenty mini-projects was arranged at Keele over the academic year 2010/11 to demonstrate to colleagues the feasibility and benefits of innovations. Volunteer academics used a range of different technologies for assessment purposes, in particular providing audio feedback, screen-casting as feedback, and using TurnitinUK Grademark, for online marking.

Extensive and inclusive consultation and support provided across the university resulted in wider use of the existing facilities for online assessment and feedback, through the VLE, and the introduction of novel assessment practices for handwriting recognition, audio and video feedback.

E-assessment processes within UWN have been and are continuing to drive a significant shift in working culture and practices. “Say what you mean” examines the role that digital technology now provides in developing verbal feedback to individual learners.

What benefits can be gained by using these ideas?

The growth of student numbers in higher education has led to a burden of assessment. In an attempt to alleviate this pressure on teaching staff, many institutions have developed assessment systems that are very efficient for quality assurance departments, but are often do little for the learning needs of individual students. UWN has shown that the availability of digital technology now provides an opportunity for academic staff to provide verbal assessment feedback that is still objective, and rigorous, but is personalized to the needs of individual learner.

Using the recommended processes for assessment and feedback at Keele has resulted in cost savings for students with regard to printing, and savings in staff time are anticipated once the processes are familiar and embedded into practice. The processes adopted offer more options to staff on giving feedback.

One member of staff found that providing audio feedback was a more efficient process:

“Although the process was new to me and I made several false starts with the recording, it took me no more than an hour to record and upload a 17 minute sound file.  Writing a Word document covering the same ground has taken me up to 2 hours in the past.”
(Dr Bill Dixon, School of Sociology and Criminology).

Audio feedback was found to be popular with undergraduate chemistry students, with many students highlighting “the thorough, in-depth and detailed nature of the feedback in comparison with written feedback” and commenting “positively on the feedback being more ‘personal’ than written feedback”.

Revised business processes for assessment  will give a more consistent student experience between programmes and modules, reducing institutional risk related to student satisfaction and retention.

How can you implement the ideas to realise the benefits?

Supporting the minority of academics who are willing to ‘have a go’ has paid dividends at Keele in both their influence with colleagues who are more resistant to change in practice, and also in demonstrating novel approaches to assessment to the rest of the institution. Involving stakeholders as soon as possible, through various channels, and consulting support staff and administrators as well, has resulted in a fairly swift uptake across the university. Software, hardware and support were also provided for encouraging adoption of the new processes, made as simple as possible for ease of use.

“The project also promoted innovation in giving feedback… I have no doubt the project outcomes will be well received by the University Committee and that the proposed technology assisted assessment… will impact significantly on the quality and efficiency of our assessment and feedback processes.”
(Professor Marilyn Andrews, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Education and Student Experience, Keele)

At UWN, a migration from MLE to Moodle has enabled and encouraged academic staff to engage with new assessment processes such as e-submit, e-mark and e-feedback.  Following a successful trial in developing verbal assessment with use of digital technology within the UWN School of Art, Media and Design, this project is now being expanded across a wide range of traditional and non-traditional students, and should result in further case studies.

Further Information

The Keele University Building capacity blog provides links to all available project documentation including evaluation material gathered from the twenty innovation projects supported by project.

This project adopted principles of institution wide change in assessment exemplified by the Scottish Funding Council funded REAP project (Strathclyde) and the HEA funded TESTA project (Winchester).

Both at Keele and UWN, JISC project outputs informed the pedagogy behind the design decisions, in particular those embedded in the recommended processes, e.g.

The Effective Assessment in a Digital Age publication supplied a framework and guide for the mini-projects.

Further JISC project outputs were consulted concerning technical integration of systems, e.g.
ceLTIc (Creating Environments for Learning using Tightly Integrated Components) (Edinburgh)