JISC Assessment and Feedback Programme Strand C

The final part of the current JISC Assessment and Feedback Programme, Strand C provides support for technical development work to ‘package a technology innovation in assessment and feedback for re-use (with associated processes and practice), and support its transfer to two or more named external institutions’.  This will see a number of innovative systems, including those developed over recent years with direct support from JISC, that have reached sufficient maturity adopted outside their originating institution and used to directly enhance teaching and learning.

The Open Mentor Technology Transfer (OMtetra) project will see The Open University’s Open Mentor system packaged and transferred to the University of Southampton and King’s College London.  This unique system profiles tutor feedback to enhance the tutor’s ability to reflect on the feedback she provides, enhancing both the quality of the feedback students receive and the tutor’s own professional development and understanding.

QTI Delivery Interaction (QTIDI) led by the University of Glasgow in partnership with the Universities of Edinburgh, Southampton and Strathclyde, Kingston University and Harper Adams University College will package the JISC-funded MathAssessEngine – itself a development of earlier JISC-funded work – for deployment in the partner institutions through Moodle and other VLEs through the development of a thin Learning Tools Interoperability layer to launch assessments from within the VLE and return scores to the VLE gradebook.  As the name suggests, this system will be fully compliant with the IMS Question and Test Interoperability (QTI) v2.1 specification.

Uniqurate is led by Kingston University, working in collaboration with the Universities of Southampton and Strathclyde, to produce and share a high quality QTI assessment content authoring system.  Again building on extensive previous work in this area, the focus of this project will be to produce user friendly interfaces to allow newcomers to eassessment and those unfamiliar with QTI to easily and confidently create high quality interoperable content.  As a sister project to QTIDI, the two project teams are working closely together to provide a suite of tools for interoperable eassessment.

The Rogo OSS project will see the University of Nottingham package their in-house eassessment system and support its implementation at De Montford University and the Universities of East Anglia, Bedford, Oxford and the West of Scotland.  This is an extensive and mature open source system, with over seven years development and deployment behind it, supporting a wide range of question types, QTI import and export, support for LaTeX, foreign languages, accessibility, a range of multimedia formats, LDAP authentication, invigilator support and embedded workflows covering the range of activities within the eassessment lifecycle.

All four projects represent an exciting stage in the work JISC has been funding, directly and indirectly, for several years, and will see these tools becoming available to the wider and non-specialist HE community supported by detailed resources and lively and engaged user communities.

JISC Assessment and Feedback Programme Strand B

Where the JISC Assessment and Feedback Programme Strand A projects are focused on identifying and introducing new assessment and feedback processes and practices, the Strand B Evidence and Evaluation projects are reviewing the impact and implications of innovations and transformations that have already taken place, and exploring how these can be extended to new contexts and environments.  These eight projects cover a broad range of approaches and will provide invaluable insight into the value of such changes for institutions, learners and staff.

The EFFECT: Evaluating feedback for elearning: centralised tutors project at the University of Dundee will examine the success of esubmission and their TQFE-Tutor system, a centralised email account, blog and microblog supporting their online PDP programme for tertiary tutors.  The project aimed to significantly increase response times and teaching quality through the use of this centralised system, as well as providing opportunities for peer interaction and collaboration for both students and staff.  As well as rigorously evaluating the impact of the programme, EFFECT will produce valuable guidance on how to adapt the system for implementation by other institutions and courses.

Student-Generated Content for Learning (SGC4L) at the University of Edinburgh is evaluating the impact of PeerWise, a freely available web based system which not only allows students to author questions for sharing with their peers but also supports extensive social discussion tools around that content, providing a greatly enhanced learning experience that students have responded to enthusiastically.  The project will emphasise the production of generic information that will be applicable across a wide range of subject areas and institutional contexts.

OCME: Online Coursework Management Evaluation, based at the University of Exeter, is rolling out and evaluating a fully paperless coursework management system, involving the integration of Moodle and Turnitin.  This will inform the development of best practice guidelines for the deployment and management of online assessment.

The problems of assignment bundling and timeliness of feedback are being considered by the Evaluation of Assessment Diaries and GradeMark at the University of Glamorgan project.  This project will be evaluating the use of student diaries to highlight to both staff and students when assignments are due to encourage good time management and planning.  The project is also looking at the use of GradeMark, an online grading system available as part of Turnitin, to provide timely, personalised and high quality feedback on assignments.

Evaluating the Benefits of Electronic Assessment Management (EBEAM) at the University of Huddersfield is also looking at the impact of Turnitin and GradeMark on student satisfaction, retention, progression and institutional efficiency.  This project will benefit from their early adoption of the systems to provide detailed insights and recommendations for their implementation in a wide range of subject areas and across different institutions.

The University of Hertfordshire’s Evaluating Electronic Voting Systems for Enhancing Student Experience (EEVS) project will provide an exhaustive examination of the use, benefits and best practice around the use of electronic voting systems in formative and summative assessment.

The eFeedback Evaluation Project (eFEP) builds on The Open University’s extensive experience in providing distance learning to explore the use of written and spoken feedback in modern language studies.  The value of such feedback in face-to-face courses will be examined through deployment in similar classes at the University of Manchester.  Detailed reports on the value of different feedback techniques together with training resources for staff and students will provide valuable advice for other institutions considering adopting such approaches.

The University of Westminster’s Making Assessment Count Evaluation (MACE) project builds on the success of the Making Assessment Count project which will be familiar to those who attended our joint event with them this February.  This project will not only evaluate the impact of the MAC eReflect self-review questionnaire within Westminster, but also pilot implementations at six other institutions including the transformation of the MAC SOS (Subject, Operational and Strategic) feedback principles into Moodle and GradeBook at City University, London.  By demonstrating the effectiveness of the system in a wide variety of subject areas and institutional contexts, the project will provide a valuable resource for those considering adopting the system.

JISC Assessment and Feedback Programme Strand A

JISC has a long tradition of providing support and encouragement for innovative assessment activities, recognising the crucial role assessment plays in education and the significant concerns about the current state of university assessment and feedback repeatedly revealed by the National Student Survey, stimulus for the National Union of Students’ recent high profile Feedback Amnesty campaign.

Their latest work in this area is focused on a substantial programme of projects funded under the three strands of the current Assessment and Feedback Programme, covering institutional change, evidence and evaluation, and technology transfer.  The twenty projects that successfully bid for funding under this programme address a wide range of assessment and feedback processes and educational contexts, illustrated by Grainne Hamilton’s excellent Storified account of the programme start up meeting earlier this month.  These projects are focused on using technology to increase the quality and efficiency of assessment and feedback practice on a large scale.  Crucially, there is a strong element of sharing running throughout the programme, both in supporting the transfer of technology to new institutions, and in sharing outcomes and learning from previous work to help support future practice – literally feeding forward to the future.

Strand A focuses on institutional change, with the eight projects funded reviewing and revising assessment and feedback processes and practices, and using technology to support major changes and best practice in their chosen area.

Feedback and Assessment for Students with Technology (FASTECH) is working with the Higher Education Academy-funded Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment (TESTA) project to implement technology-enhanced assessment and feedback processes in a large number of degree programmes at Bath Spa and Winchester Universities.  The project will learn about the approaches teachers and learners take to assessment and how technology can be used to affect this.  In addition, a range of resources and support will be made available to support practitioners in transforming individual and institutional practice.

COLLABORATE: working with employers and students to design assessment enhanced by the use of digital technologies at the University of Exeter is focused on employability issues, and on ensuring that assessment is designed with students’ future career prospects firmly in mind.  The project is structured around a series of collaborations: with employers, with programme and institutional teams, and with students and recent graduates, redesigning assessment to ensure that it is pedagogically sound and realistic in preparing students for life beyond graduation.

FAST (Feedback and Assessment Strategy Testing) led by Cornwall College is facing the intriguing issue of embedding technology-supported assessment in a geographic area which lacks full broadband roll out and with students whose ability to physically visit the college campus is limited by poor transport links or employment.  A small-scale pilot on a small cohort in a single campus will be followed with full scale roll out in a Personal and Employability Development module studied by over 700 students on 43 different courses in seven different campuses.  The information on technical and support issues encountered and methods adopted to overcome them will be disseminated to the wider community, as will model CPD packages for potential adoption in other institutions.

InterACT at the University of Dundee is also dealing with a rather unique student cohort.  Providing continuing education and CPD for practicing doctors, their courses are entirely distance taught and, crucially, the timing of assessment submission is entirely at the discretion of the individual student.  This leads to issues around timeliness of feedback and feed forward, which may have an impact on learner satisfaction and, subsequently, on retention.  This project will examine the ways in which a range of technologies such as blogs, FriendFeed, VOIP, webinars and chat tools can enable personalised, timely and focused feedback that encourages reflection and engagement, and enhances the student experience.

The timeliness and effectiveness of feedback is also a focus of the Integrating Technology-Enhanced Assessment Methods (iTEAM) project at the University of Hertfordshire, which is exploring the ways in which electronic voting systems and increased embedding of QuestionMark Perception can be used to provide prompt personalised feedback.  A student dashboard will be developed to integrate information from EVS, QMP, the institution’s Managed Learning Environment (MLE) and other relevant sources to provide a central point for information on a student’s performance across all subjects, enabling personal tutors to provide meaningful and personalised support and students to better understand their own learning behaviours.

The Institute of Education’s Assessment Careers: enhancing learning pathways through assessment project will explore the construction of assessment frameworks, incorporating multi-stage assessment and structured feedback and feed forward.  There is a strong emphasis on assessment as an holistic whole rather than single, stand-alone events, with assessment instances part of a larger learning journey rather than marking the end point of a phase of study.  The framework will be piloted in a number of Masters modules, with learner and tutor experiences then informing the model as it is scaled up for use on an institutional level.

TRAFFIC: TRansforming Assessment + Feedback for Institutional Change at Manchester Metropolitan University builds on MMU’s work in the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programme to implement an institution-wide assessment transformation programme.  The project will undertake an extremely thorough review of assessment across the institution, explore ways in which technology can enhance and support assessment and feedback processes, and provide a very rich range of resources for the broader community.

eAFFECT: eAssessment and Feedback for Effective Course Transformation is the culmination of a range of activities examining assessment and feedback processes undertaken recently at Queen’s University Belfast.  The project will examine staff and student approaches to assessment, in particular addressing concerns about workload, learning styles and how technology can support transformation in assessment processes.  A practice-based website and extensive supporting documentation will help individual practitioners and institutional change managers apply the lessons of this project to their own contexts.

Under development: Sharing Higher Education Data

Meaningful work placements and graduate employability have always been an important part of university education and preparation for a professional future in certain disciplines, and are arguably even more so today in a climate of limited employment opportunities, with high university fees and loans positioning students as customers investing in their future careers.  Certain subject areas enjoy good relationships with industry, providing industrial placements to give students real-world experience in their future fields, while local companies benefit from the expertise and cutting edge knowledge these students can bring to the workplace.  Universities and colleges similarly benefit from this ongoing engagement with industry, ensuring their courses remain relevant and meaningful.

Shrinking university staff numbers have increased workloads, limiting the time staff have to spend assisting individual students in seeking suitable placements and opportunities for work-based learning.  In any case, reliance on university staff is not necessarily the best way in which students can prepare themselves for seeking suitable, fulfilling employment on graduation, or establish fruitful relationships with potential employers.

The Sharing Higher Education Data (SHED) project attempts to address these issues through the delivery of a ‘matchmaking’ service for students and employers, which will both facilitate communication between them and enable students to plan their learning paths in the light of the expectations and requirements of their chosen profession.  Sample case studies included in the student and employer information sheets about the service help illustrate the range of ways in which SHED can benefit both user groups while increasing interaction between academia and industry.

SHED uses the popular Mahara open source eportfolio tool to allow students to develop their profiles, and, vitally, provides them with strict control over what information is made publicly viewable by potential recruiters.  Students can also view common employer search terms within their particular field in order to better understand the employment market in that area and to support the review and revision of their profiles to enhance their employability.  The integration of the XCRI information model and specification (eXchanging Course Related Information) provides a common framework for describing and sharing course information, while Leap2A and InterOperability provide support for the sharing of eportfolio and competence information.

As a partnership between the Centre for International ePortfolio Development at the University of Nottingham and Derby College, SHED will also be able to demonstrate how the system can be used across a number of different institutions without compromising privacy while maximising opportunities for placement and project work and professional development.  Although small-scale and local to begin with, it is intended that the system be scalable to include many institutions, subject areas and locations, and provide both a valuable service for students and employers and insight into regional and national trends in industry and development.

Badges, identity and the $2million prize fund

You’ll almost certainly have noticed some of the excitement that’s suddenly erupted around the use of badges in education.  Perhaps you’ve heard that it’s the latest in a long line of ‘game changers for education’, maybe you’re even hoping for a slice of that $2million prize fund the HASTAC Initiative, Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation are offering for work around their adoption and development through the Digital Media and Learning Badges for Lifelong Learning competition.  Supported by a number of significant entities, including Intel, Microsoft and various US Government departments, the competition offers up to $200k each for a number of projects around content and infrastructure for badges for lifelong learning, as well as an $80k award for a research project in ‘Badges, trophies and achievements: recognition and accreditation for informal and interest-driven learning’ together with two smaller doctoral student grants, and student and faculty prizes.  That’s a decent amount of cash available for – what?

This is all based around Mozilla’s Open Badges Initiative, which attempts to provide an innovative infrastructure to support the recognition of non-traditional learning and achievement for professional development and progress.  Drawing upon the widespread use of badges and achievements in gaming and the current trend for gamification, the project is described in gamified language, claiming that badges can help adopters ‘level up’ in their careers via the acquisition and display (sharing) of badges.  There’s a fair point being made here: gamers can develop a profile and express their individual identity as gamers through the display of achievements they earn as they play, which can then be shared ingame through the use of special titles or on appropriate fora through signatures and site profiles.  Achievements reflect the different interests a player has (their weighting on the Bartle scale for example) as well as their skill.  Within a fairly closed community such as a single game, a suite of games or a website, these achievements have significant value as the viewers are other gamers for whom the achievements have meaning and value.

LarsH on Stack Overflow’s response to the question ‘why are badges motivating?‘, asked over a year ago but still very relevant, sums this up eloquently:

We like other people to admire us.  As geeks we like others to admire us for our skills.  Badges/achievements stay visible in association with our online identity long-term, unlike individual questions and answers which quickly fade into obscurity.

If I play a game and get a great score, it’s nice, but it means little to others unless they have the context of what typical scores are for that game (and difficulty level etc).  Whereas an achievment is a little more compact of a summary of what you’ve accomplished.

Badges also give us a checklist whereby we can see how far we’ve come since we joined the web site – and how far we have to go in order to be average, or to be exceptional.’

LarsH’s comments were in the context of participation in an online community which awards badges for numbers of ‘helpful’ answers to questions and other contributions, but the underlying theme is the same for all contexts: the notion of building a persistent persona associated with achievements and success that endures beyond a single assessed instance (one play through a game, one helpful answer) which which it is specifically associated.  It creates a sense of status and implies competence and trustworthiness, which in turn can inspire others to emulate that behaviour in the hope of seeking similar recognition, or indicate that this is a trusted individual to ask for advice or guidance from.  Badges not only provide recognition of past contributions but also an implication that future contributions can also be trusted and an incentive to participate usefully.

Being able to capture and reflect this sometimes quite fine-grained information in other contexts would indeed have some advantages.  But as soon as these awards and achievements are looked at by someone outside their immediate context, they immediately lose a large part of their value, not because they’re worthless outside their original context but because the viewer lacks the expertise in the field to be able to trust that the badge reflects what it claims or to understand the implications of what it claims.  The value of the badge, therefore, isn’t inherent in the badge itself but in the assertions around it: that is was issued by a trustworthy party on reliable evidence to the specific individual who claims it.  A lot like, say, a traditional certificate for completing an accredited course, perhaps…

As Alex Reid (no, not that one) says, ‘passing a high stakes test to get a badge is no different than the system we already have’, and a lot of the problems around developing a trustworthy system are those that have already been faced by traditional awarders.  Comparisons to diploma mills swiftly emerged in the aftermath of the competition announcement, and it’s not difficult to see why: if anyone can issue a badge, how do we know that a badge reflects anything of merit?  Cathy Davidson’s vision of a world where employers hand out badges for ‘Great Collaborator!’ or ‘Ace Teacher!’ is nice (if far too cutesy for my tastes), but it’s not exactly hard to see how easily it could be abused.

At the heart of the badges initiative is the far older issue of identity management.  As our badge ‘backpack‘ is intended to gather badges awarded in a range of different contexts, how are we to be sure that they all belong to the one person?  As the example above of Alex Reid, American academic, versus Alex Reid, cage fighter, cross dresser, Celebrity Big Brother contestant and ex husband of Jordan, demonstrates, names are useless for this, particularly when the same person can be known by a number of different names, all equally meaningful to them in the same different contexts the backpack is intended to unify.  Email addresses have often been suggested as a way of identifying individuals, yet how many of us use a single address from birth to death?  In the US, social security numbers are far too sensitive to be used, while UK National Insurance numbers aren’t unique.  Similarly, how is a recruiter to know that a badge has been issued by a ‘respectable’ provider on the basis of actual performance rather than simply bought from a badge mill?  Unique identification of individuals and awarders, and accreditation of accreditors themselves, whether through a central registry or decentralised web of trust, is at the heart of making this work, and that’s not a small problem to solve.  With the momentum behind the OER movement growing and individuals having more reason and opportunity to undertake free ad hoc informal learning, being able to recognise and credit this is important.  As David Wiley notes, however, there’s a difference between a badge awarded simply for moving through a learning resource, and one awarded as an outcome of validated, quality assured assessment specifically designed to measure learning and achievement, and this needs to be fully engaged with for open or alternative credentialing to fulfill its potential.

There’s also a danger that badges and achievements can be used to legitimise bad or inadequate content by turning it into a Skinner box, where candidates will repeatedly undertake a set task in the expectation of eventually getting a reward, rather than because the task itself is engaging or they’re learning from it.  Borrowing from games can be good, but gamers can be very easily coaxed into undertaking the most mindless, tedious activities long after their initial value has been exhausted if the eventual reward is perceived as worth it.

Unlike, say, augmented reality or other supposed game changers, it’s not the underlying technology itself that has the potential to be transformative – after all, it basically boils down to a set of identity assertion and management problems to be solved with which the IDM people have been wrestling for a long time, plus image exchange and suitable metadata – but rather the cultural transformation it expresses, with the recognition that informal or hobbyist learning and expertise can be a part of our professional skillset.  Are badges the right way of doing this?  Perhaps; but what’s much more important is that the discussion is being had.  And that has to be a good thing.

Under development: eMargin

eMargin logo

When I was studying English at university, one of the more engaging and intriguing sites of discussion and debate was the margins of printed texts.  These are the ultimate asynchronous discussions, taking place over decades in some cases, rarely revisted by their participants once they’d left their comment on previous comments.  It was fascinating to encounter often very different perceptions on both primary and secondary texts, and they encouraged me to reflect on my own interpretations and arguments as well as articulating them in the form of comments added to those already there.  These serendipitous discoveries definitely enhanced my learning experience, providing the opportunity to discuss texts and solidify my understanding significantly beyond that provided by limited tutorial time and the very few other opportunities for debate available.  Similarly, I encouraged my students to write on their books to increase engagement with the texts they read and legitimise their interpretations and opinions, although that was often met with askance looks that clearly said, ‘sod that, I’m selling them later.’

So I was very interested to learn about the eMargin project, which is developing an online collaborative textual annotation resource as part of the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants funding round six.  The eMargin system allows a range of annotation activities for electronic editions of texts, encompassing notes and comments on individual sections, highlighting, underlining and so on, all personalisable to support different tastes and access requirements.  What takes this beyond the usual functionality offered by ebook readers is the ability to share these annotations with class-mates and students from other institutions, enabling their use as educational resources by design rather than chance.  Teachers are able to control the degree of exposure of annotations in line with institutional policies on student IPR, and the system may be developed further to allow students to control which comments they wish to share and which to keep private, allowing them to use the same system for personal study as well as class work.  By providing an easy means for sharing ideas, together with a wiki feature for building and capturing consensus, this system will be of value in all disciplines, not just English Literature where it is being developed.

The project team, Andrew Kehoe and Matt Gee of the Research and Development Unit for English Studies at Birmingham City University, are developing the system through a number of iterations in the light of feedback from teachers and learners, and engaging participants in other institutions and other disciplines to demonstrate its versatility.  The team is also exploring the possibility of integrating eMargin with VLEs, and its potential as an eassessment tool; it may also have value in tracking the development of learners’ ideas in order to reduce opportunities for plagiarism.

The project runs until the end of May 2012, when source code, user guides and an archive of textual annotations will be available via the project site.  You can also visit their FaceBook page.