Assesment & Feedback
Graham Hallet, Senior Lecturer, SEN/D and Inclusion, and Shelby Mercer, second year student, give their reflections on a student led conference undertaken as part of a 2nd year Inclusion module
An essential part of being a teacher is to reflect on practice, and to use that reflection as the basis for innovation and creativity in our teaching and learning activities. In the summer of 2010, the opportunity arose to implement a different approach in an Education Studies module in the 2nd year of our 4-year BA (Hons) with QTS. The module is on Inclusion, and this is seen to encompass the needs of all marginalized pupils, rather than only on those with special educational needs. Such a huge subject area seemed to require an approach that differed from our usual teaching pattern, to ensure a continued focus throughout the academic year on Inclusion. Accordingly, a number of changes were made to the usual pattern of seminars and occasional lectures.
Two further beliefs shaped the approach of the module. The first was a conviction that far too much emphasis is placed on summative assignments in the University, and far too little is placed on a continued rehearsal of the skills and attributes needed in producing those assignments. Accordingly, a system akin to the idea of Oxford tutorials was introduced; following a lead lecture, on, for example, gender inclusion, students were expected to prepare and submit a short essay of perhaps 750 words to their tutor. A week or so later, in groups of six plus a tutor, these essays were dissected and discussed in a tutorial lasting an hour. This cycle was repeated 5 or 6 times during the module, ensuring the continued development of writing and research skills.
The second belief was that students respond positively and productively to being given responsibility, even at such an early stage of their academic journey. It was decided to give the students the responsibility of organizing an inclusion conference. A model was provided through the provision of a tutor led conference at the end of Semester 1 but it was made clear that the organization of the student led conference rested entirely with the student body. Time had to be allocated within the structure of the day for the students to present a group paper that formed their summative assignment for the module, but otherwise the programme was entirely within their remit.
The first Conference took place in June 2011 and has been followed by further events in each subsequent year. Each has been very different, perhaps reflecting the personalities of the students in that year, but each has been completely successful, with invited speakers of national importance in the field, exhibitions of relevant materials, refreshments provided, webcasts organized and T-shirts produced. Perhaps the best way to show the value of these events is to listen to the student voice; in this case, Shelby Mercer, one of our current second year organisers, gives her views of the conference that was held on the 28th March 2017.
The morning had gone well. My colleagues and I, looking around at one another, felt quietly confident. Our third speaker, half way through her talk, was passionately sharing her experiences with the audience. Eyes were fixed to the front until, suddenly, our speaker’s PowerPoint disappeared and the emergency lighting flickered on. There had been a power cut.
The student-led conference is one of the opportunities that makes our degree unique. I have attended them before and know others that have previously organised them, yet, the degree of autonomy involved was still surprising. Early during the module Graham explained the conference was ours; this meant we were responsible for everything from fundraising to flyers, speakers to spoons. The extent we were involved personally was also up to us; everyone wanted to participate in the planning, driven by the strong motivation of the experience rather than a grade.
I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of the lessons learnt from creating and implementing a conference, with 20 peers, at this stage in our learning journey. Here are some:
A group of people can succeed in their goals without a leader. Early on we split into small self-organising teams, each with our own aims such as publicity and fundraising. I am not going to say that it all happened smoothly; some were more active in the planning than others and communication was sometimes lacking. However, this approach allowed us to make decisions by consensus, agreeing together therefore meant everyone was committed to turning our decisions into reality.
Some people will simply ignore your emails. Both the teams responsible for speakers and exhibitors had to quickly learn to deal with rejection or simply being ignored. However, this feeling was overshadowed by the fear that we wouldn’t have enough speakers; a needless worry as we secured four fantastic guest speakers.
Not everything will run smoothly. There is likely to be a moment, or two, or many, of stress. For us this ranged from technical difficulties, to losing an exhibitor in the carpark, and finally the power cut. Conferences are intrinsically social gatherings. It might be a cliché to say so, but, as I watched our final speaker do an impression of a Scouse lion under emergency lighting, I realised we should, after all our hard work, be enjoying ourselves. As Graham said, it’s our day.
These are just some of lessons I have learnt from planning a conference, I’m sure for my peers they may be different. However, the importance, I believe, is that we were given the opportunity to learn them – in our own way.
Pedagogy in Practice (PIP) workshop, 28.3.17
Sandie Donnelly, LiSS
Sandie Donnelly reports on the latest PIP Seminar held at Brampton Road
The staff who attended were great. Engaged, positive, thoughtful and challenging contributions; myself and my colleague, Claire Stewart, certainly got a lot out of it and I hope it was useful for the academic staff too.
Key discussion points included:
Consensus that using exemplars is good practice and surprise that malpractice concerns might make some staff reluctant to share exemplars. The lack of exemplars doesn’t prevent plagiarism. In fact, another advantage of using exemplars is the opportunity presented to talk about and promote academic integrity. Also, interesting that the area with the most malpractice cases has not been put off using exemplars and continues to do so.
Should exemplars only be used in workshops as hard copies and as part of a discussion with an adviser and/or tutor, rather than made available electronically; might that help to mitigate against potential plagiarism? But again, isn’t it more a case of exploring academic integrity with students and trusting the majority. Is there more to be lost in not being able to use exemplars to help majority of students, because of a minority of cases who misuse exemplars?
Interesting discussion around “originality” in the arts. How to help students explore their specific discipline to understand it, be inspired by it, be informed by it, understand how their art has developed, evolved and continues to be shaped and influenced, without students misappropriating materials as their own. Reality that there is so much quick and easy access to materials now, via the web etc, that just denying students access to materials like exemplars in the classroom for fear of lack of originality, won’t stop them finding sources of information elsewhere. Isn’t it better to have the exemplars in the workshops, seminars, studios, etc and then for those to be explored in constructive debates and discussions with academics and advisers to help students understand the balance between appreciation, knowledge and understanding that “educates” and inspires students, and malpractice.
There was discussion around hard copies of dissertations being available for students to access in the library. Digital-only policies for assessment in some areas have meant that whereas students could previously access a number of examples of dissertations across all campus libraries, the bank of dissertations is dwindling in some areas.
Consensus that exemplars are good practice, agreement to work with adviser at Brampton Rd to build up bank of exemplars. Seminar provided evidence of positive collaboration between academic staff and adviser at Brampton Road and desire of all to best support students to succeed.
John Pearson, a lecturer in Technical Theatre at our Brampton Road Campus, is about to publish a paper in the Higher Education Practitioner Research Journal, in which he outlines the advantages of using audio to deliver timely, accessible and engaging feedback to his students.
His students stated that they had listened to the recording more than once and absorbed what had been said, rather than skim read down to the grade, as they would have done with feedback provided as text. Their perception was that more time and effort had been invested in the process and were aware their tutor had produced an individually tailored response.
An interesting outcome was that students expressed they would have less of an issue approaching the tutor to discuss their work, as the audio had already begun the conversation, building a sense of community and potentially enhancing future achievement.
We look forward to sharing his paper with you in the future, as we believe this method of delivery, although not suiting all assessments, is nevertheless a great example of good practice that deserves dissemination to a wider audience.
The initial student assessment was a peer presentation with no electronic submission required. Where submissions are required to be made through Turnitin, the current version does not support the tutor upload of an additional feedback file as is the case with a normal Blackboard assignment. This, potentially, could allow the edited audio to be attached directly to the submission. How then do students receive their feedback?
John created a Turnitin non-submission assignment as a vehicle for returning the audio files in mp3 format. He had to submit these individually, as bulk upload using a zip file is not available for files of this type.
The majority of his students use mobile devices to access materials and although there were some issues in playing the audio files on these devices, students experienced no such problems on PCs within the University or at home.
Future improvements to interface
Around August, we will be upgrading the Turnitin grading and feedback portal to a new interface called Feedback Studio. This new interface supports the use of hyperlinks within individual feedback comments which can then be saved as Quickmarks, if required, saving time in the future.
Potentially, tutors could use these to feed forward links to specific helpful materials on Referencing or Academic Writing for example.
As with the current Turnitin interface, Grademark’s general comments area makes it possible to record an audio message with a maximum duration of 3 minutes. Unfortunately editing functionality is unavailable, and for some the whole message might need to be recorded in one go without error.
It is fairly common for tutors to think this needs to be voice perfect but the odd hesitation or stutter happens in every conversation and can be perceived as being more natural.
For tutors requiring longer and editable recordings, other software such as Audacity (Open Source) are readily available and on some University machines, Adobe Audition (proprietary) may be installed.
Once the file has been recorded, it should be saved into a specific ModuleName folder in mp3 format with the StudentName in the title within your One Drive or Share Point area.
Currently, these files would then be uploaded individually into the new Turnitin non submission assessment with each file associated to a specific student. The file naming convention suggested makes this a fairly straightforward procedure.
With the adoption of Feedback Studio, a share link can be created for each separate One Drive audio file. This can then be added into the student’s general comments area as a hyperlink. As this is now contained as feedback within the students’ original submission, there is no requirement to create another submission point making it a much simpler process going forward.
A detailed technical document on this complete process will be available in the FAQ section in time for the proposed Feedback Studio release in August.
Audio feedback is an excellent way to connect with your students and if you would like to try it yourself – contact any of our Learning Technologists who will be happy to support you. I am sure you will find, like John, that your students will greatly appreciate your efforts.
Pedagogy in Practice (PIP) workshop, 14.2.17
This session was led by Alan Marsh, the Programme Lead and Senior Lecturer for Radiation Protection in the Department of Science, Natural Resources and Outdoor Studies.
This session looked at the NSS questions on feedback and it was clear students on the Radiation Protection programme felt the feedback they received was insufficient, and lacking detailed comments. The programme team couldn’t understand this as they devote a lot of time to providing feedback so it appeared students were not recognising it as feedback. These students tend to be mature students, returning to learning after some time so the idea of feedback and how to use it to feed-forward can require a change in approach.
The participants discussed this and their own experiences of students mis-understanding the purpose of feedback, along with what feedback is.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines feedback as (one of three, others to do with process and electrical signals):
Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.
It was agreed the main point for feedback is to provide a basis for improvement. Other suggestions for what feedback is included: to indicate to students if they are on target to pass; formative; timely; formal and informal.
Participants shared the various ways they provide feedback, including written and recorded. Alan discussed his experiences of using these different approaches and the importance of preparing students to be able to use the feedback provided.
Strategies for how to ensure students understand feedback should be used to feed-forward were explored, with a suggestion of including an area for improvement each time to focus the student to this area of development.
Alan also discussed some recent literature on this topic, which is summarised along with notes from the session.
Kolb, 1982; Brockbank, 1998; Ramsden, 2003; Irons, 2007; Norton, 2007 (to name but a few) recognize that feedback on assignments can contribute to improving the quality of the student learning experience. Ramsden, 2003, in particular for example (page 187) highlights that “It is impossible to overstate the role of effective comments on students’ progress in any discussion of effective teaching and assessment”.
Carless, 2015 talks about the three interrelated processes of :-
- Learning oriented assessment tasks for students;
- Students development of self-evaluative capacities;
- Student engagement with feedback.
Hattie, 2009 claims that learning becomes visible when teachers are also learners and helping students to become their own teachers. Providing adequate feedback is an important aspect.
Boud & Molloy (2013b) developed and analysed two models of feedback:-
- The first positions teachers as the drivers of feedback (derived from the original concept of feedback from the applied sciences – unilateral approach);
- The second draws on the idea of sustainable assessment, in which learners have a key role in driving learning and so generating their own feedback – bilateral or multilateral approach which positions students as active learners.
Parker & Winstone (2016) presented students with 10 possible feedback interventions, which seemed to indicate that students believe (or they perceive) they lack the skills required to engage with interventions; they make some recommendations as to how to frame such interventions to promote stronger student engagement.
If you have some examples of how you are helping students understand feedback and how you are linking feedback to feed-forward, do get in touch to share your practice, AQD@cumbria.ac.uk.
References / further reading
Boud, D. & Molloy, E. (2013a) Feedback in Higher and Professional Education: Understanding it and doing it well. London: Routledge
Boud, D. & Molloy, E. (2013b) ‘Rethinking models of feedback for learning: the challenge of design’ J. of Assessment & Evaluation in HE, 38(6), pp. 689-71
Carless, D (2015) ‘Exploring learning-oriented assessment process’, Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education Research, 69(6), pp. 963-976
Parker, M. & Winstone, N.E. (2016) ‘Students perceptions of interventions for supporting their engagement with feedback’, Practictioner Research in Higher Education, 10(1) pp. 53-64
Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education. 2nd edn. London: Routledge Falmer