This blog is my feedback from the Student Assessment and Classification Working Group (SACWG) meeting, held in London on 24 Nov 2011. SACWG is an informal group of UK academics and administrators who have a shared interest HE assessment, including assessment criteria, grading, and the honours degree classification. The meeting was attended by about 50 people from various universities, the HEA and QAA. Aston was represented by Professor Alison Halstead (invited speaker) and me (Stuart Wallis, delegate). I attended, because I know that assessment & feedback is such a big issue in HE, and I wanted to hear about other universities’ problems and solutions.
The day consisted of presentations, discussion groups and a question-and-answer session. The presenters were:
- Dr. Marie Stowell (Director of Quality & Educational Development, University of Worcester)
- Professor Alison Halstead (Aston’s Pro Vice Chancellor of Learning & Teaching Innovation)
- Professor Chris Rust (Associate Dean for Academic Policy, Oxford Brookes University)
- Professor Paul Hyland (Head of Teaching & Learning, Bath Spa University)
Marie Stowell set the context, by stressing the importance of good assessment and feedback (e.g. for student retention and completion) and by describing some of the challenges facing those who assess. Alison Halstead painted a very positive picture of how we are addressing the challenges here at Aston. Her PowerPoint slides are below. Edited highlights include: personal response systems (Optivote) being used by Audiology and Psychology to check students’ understanding in class, and the consequent increase of student engagement; the use of lecture capture (Aston Replay) – students like being able to review lectures, and lecturers do not report reduced attendance; the identification of the reasons for staff resisting e-marking and the consequent provision of large computer screens to staff in Psychology. In response to a question about how to manage the adoption of e-marking, Alison disagreed with another panel member who suggested a top-down decree, and stated that if management can’t demonstrate the benefits from within the discipline, then they should not be forcing a change. As I listened, I felt glad to be working at Aston.
Here are some of the issues/tensions/problems that were discussed by the presenters and delegates throughout the day, and possible solutions:
Issue: A lack of coherence across a programme, due to the tendency for lecturers to design module assessments in isolation.
Solution: Move away from assessment of a module towards assessment of a programme. For example, Coventry Business School uses an assessment that is marked by 3 lecturers, each of which is looking at different aspects of it. But, the increase of modules size (e.g. 40 credits) means that a students who fails it ends up being re-assessed on more material than if the module was small (10 credits).
Issue: How do we ensure good quality assessment & feedback when class sizes are increasing?
Solution: Have fewer summative assessments. This may release time for more formative assessments, which can be ‘quick and dirty’.
Issue: How can we get students to engage with peer/self assessment, if they think that assessment is the lecturer’s job?
Solution: Spell out the benefits of being a peer-assessor, and spell out that these skills are graduate attributes; give training on how to assess; make it a compulsory part of the module.
Issue: How do we get students engaged with formative assessment that carries no marks?
Solution: Specify that it is a stage towards a summative assessment (“Here’s your chance to practice before the real thing”); make it interesting.
Issue: How can early re-assessment be managed?
Solution: The University of Worcester has recently moved re-assessments from August/September to June. The idea was that lecturers are more likely to be available to help students (and not at conferences), and that this would lead to better pass rates. At Worcester it did, but at another university it did not. Also, this system placed increased pressure on staff during June.
Issue: How do we encourage students to be co-producers of learning, rather than consumers of teaching?
Solution: Manage their expectations by providing clarity about what is being offered, e.g. through a student charter.
Issue: How can we encourage all (rather than just some) of the students to read the feedback comments on their work?
Solution: Initially provide the feedback without the mark, and only supply the mark after a response has been made to the feedback (e.g. “What I have learnt from these comments is…”); if supplying audio feedback, embed the mark at an unexpected place in the audio (not at the beginning or end).
My overall impression is that it was a very useful day. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to network, and by meeting people from other universities I realised that Aston really is a refreshingly responsive place to work.
If you would like to know more about the SACWG event, or wish to respond to any of these issues, please post a comment on this blog, or contact Stuart on extension 5171 or at email@example.com.