When is a fail not a fail?

The UCU is reporting on an employment tribunal at Bournemouth University over a dispute relating to the marking of examination scripts.

The case focused on the remarking of papers of fourteen students who had failed both their original examination in archaeology and the subsequent resit.  Despite the marks awarded by the complainant, Dr Paul Buckland, being confirmed in both diets by internal double marking and approved by the course’s exam board, the papers were subsequently remarked after intervention by the programme leader resulting in a number of the previously failing students gaining borderline marks that could allow them to gain an overall pass enabling them to remain on the course.  The revised marks were accepted by the chair of the exam board on behalf of the board.

Is this situation, as the UCU representatives’ comments suggest, a consequence of the ‘marketisation of higher education’ and emerging ‘consumerist attitudes to degrees’, or simply the result of inevitable subjectivity in the marking process?

Testing the value of SATs

This article in The Progressive, One Teacher’s Cry: why I hate no child left behind by Susan J Hobart, explores one teacher’s frustrations with an education system dominated by SATs, political policy and league tables.  Although based on Hobart’s experiences within the American education system, the world of doublethink (‘teach to the tests we don’t teach to’) and inflexible policy that hampers the very children it’s supposed to benefit will be familiar to many. 

Hobart’s concerns echo those raised by Mike Baker in the wake of the SATs chaos in England.  Both Baker and Hobart highlight the way in which pressure on schools to achieve good results can result in narrowing of the range of content taught in those areas subject to assessment, specifically English, maths and science, with classroom time being diverted from teaching subject matter to teaching children how to pass tests and accurately colour in the circles on multiple choice test papers.

Tests obviously have a vital place within the education system, and an especial importance at the end of primary education in order to provide a record of competencies for a child entering secondary education to ensure that their abilities and needs are catered for as effectively as possible.  In a culture where test results have as much to do with league tables and house prices as with the benefit to the pupil, however, it’s hard to see who the real winners are.

UKCDR assessment tools survey outcomes

BTL recently announced that their Surpass Suite of eassessment tools came out top of a survey conducted by the UK Collaboration for a Digital Repository for High Stakes Assessments (UKCDR) project.

UKCDR, which ran from June 2005 – May 2007, was funded by JISC to create a methodology for developing a UK-wide high stakes assessment infrastructure.  Based at the University of Manchester, with partners from a range of institutions, one of the project’s outputs is a needs calculator which allows users to specify their requirements for an assessment system and identifies appropriate software for their needs.  There are two sets of results, one based on vendor self-appraisal and the other on the UKCDR evaluation; selecting ‘tick all’ and viewing the results reveals some dramatic differences between some of the vendor and UKCDR evaluations.  The UKCDR results show BTL as providing the most extensive functionality, with Questionmark and Thomson Prometric good second and third respectively. 

There are also a lot of useful resources on the UKCDR site, including use cases, presentations and an item bank survey, which are all well worth exploring.

BlackBoard investigate Second Life integration

BlackBoard have awarded a $25,000 Greenhouse Grant for Virtual Worlds to Ball State University to ‘to foster and promote the integration of virtual worlds into everyday teaching and learning’.  The work will explore a range of pedagogic and administrative issues (you’ll need to scroll down a bit to the right section) around linking BlackBoard with Second Life, some of which could have quite far-reaching outcomes for the use of virtual worlds in education. 

Security issues are explicitly addressed, as is the validated association of avatar names with student names for the use of assessment management and enterprise systems.  The development of a best practice model for instructional design within virtual environments could help produce structured and carefully directed learning activities with tight control over locations and sequencing of activities that may help overcome the aimlessness that students who don’t engage with SL complain about.  Although the award will directly fund development for BSU’s cinema arts course, outcomes will be made available to the BlackBoard community as a whole. 

There’s likely to be some way to go before this work can compete with Sloodle‘s achievements in linking Moodle with SL, but it does open up the possibility of secure and suitably controlled use of SL for institutions tied in to BlackBoard.

Thanks to Daniel Livingstone on the Virtualworlds JISCMail list for pointing out this award.

First IMS European TestFest to come to UK

Developers of tools that implement IMS specifications will have an opportunity to participate in a formal IMS TestFest as part of the next IMS Quarterly Meeting, being held in Birmingham on 15-18 September.  Seven QTI v2.1 tools and products have already signed up for the event on Tuesday 16th September, and will also be covered in the open session on QTI the day before: RM, ASDEL, JAssess, QTI Constraints Editor, AQuRate, Onyx and the QTI Migration Tool

Amongst other items of interest on Wednesday 17th is the final of the regional Learning Impact competition – entries for which must be in by 25 August, so there’s still time to get your application in!  The meeting closes on the 18th with a summit on Interoperability Now and Next, covering a broad range of issues and featuring a number of high profile speakers.

Happy median

I don’t know if it’s just that I’m becoming more aware of these things, or if new Web 2.0 sites and services really are emerging at an exponential rate at the moment, but I regularly find myself following the rush to the latest toy application to try it out, spending a little while playing with testing it, then never going back again.  One exciting exception to this, however, is Social|Median, a Digg-like social news network that launched its open beta last Thursday to an impressively positive reception.

I really like Social|Median.  I spent far too much of Thursday finding my way around the site, identifying the newsmakers and networks I wanted to engage with and wandering off across the internet in pursuit of fascinating new content.  By Friday morning, the site had become part of my daily routine: log into email, check Twitter, open SM.  Yes, that quickly.

There are a few reasons why I’m quite so taken with the site.  Partly it’s the interface, which is nicely intuitive to use and which, more than other such aggregator services I’ve used, provides you with enough of an advance snippet from the stories clipped by users to know whether you want to follow them further.  The really crucial element, however, is the quality of the content that people are clipping (the SM equivalent of digging or stumbling upon), aided by the fact that some of the key names in social media, the likes of Robert Scoble and Louis Gray, have engaged with the service, bringing their stamp of approval and quality content to the service as well as becoming the news themselves

One thing I’ve noticed since I started using SM is that I’m less interested in Twitter.  I don’t know if it’s just coincidental, some random application ennui that might just be a passing phase, or if there’s a connection with the rise of SM; I rather suspect the latter.  Recently I’ve been using Twitter less as a social tool and more as a source of content, following twitterers who post interesting links and opinions rather than announcing the local weather or that they’ve broken a nail.  The awkwardness of retrieving older tweets and the 140 character limit, which made it such a fun and exciting service in the past, simply doesn’t lend itself to such use, particularly when combined with my haphazard approach to delicious tagging interesting material I find.  Social|Median fulfills this need so effectively that at the moment I’m barely logging in to Twitter.  Criticising a service for being poor at a function it was never really designed for may be more than a little unfair, but I guess the point of a lot of these services is precisely that they are what their users want to make of them, and if we’re bored with them, we can either find new uses or move on.

European research on eassessment

Spotted via René Meijer’s excellent blog is a new publication on eassessment from the EC’s Joint Research Centre.  Towards a Research Agenda on Computer-Based Assessment is one of the outcomes of an expert workshop held last November in Italy to explore innovative approaches to large-scale skills assessment.

The fourteen papers in this volume cover a wide range of perspectives and experiences, with topics ranging from quality aspects of eassessment to innovative approaches and open source solutions and authors from a range of sectors.  This is an excellent resource worthy of a wide audience.