Making Assessment Count Evaluation project

The Making Assessment Count (MAC) project ran from November 2008 to October 2010, funded by JISC as part of their Transforming Curriculum Delivery through Technology programme and led by the University of Westminster.  Focused on the desire to engage students with assessment feedback provided to them, it explored processes for encouraging and guiding student reflection on feedback and developing a dialogue between learners and teachers around feedback.  Participants at a joint Making Assessment Count/JISC CETIS event on Assessment and Feedback back in February 2011 heard not only from project staff but also from students who were actively using the system and whose enthusiasm for it and recognition of its impact on their development as learners was genuinely inspiring.

Although the project team developed the eReflect tool to support the Making Assessment Count process, the primary driver of the project was the conceptual model underlying the tool and the development of eReflect was a pragmatic decision based on the lack of suitable alternative technologies.  The team also contributed a service usage model (SUM) on their feedback process to the eFramework.

The Making Assessment Count Evaluation (MACE) project will see the Westminster team overseeing the implementation of the MAC model in an number of partner institutions, and will see the eReflect tool in use in the Universities of Bedfordshire and Greenwich, and Cardiff Metropolitan University (formerly the University of Wales Institute Cardiff).  By contrast, City University London and the University of Reading will be focusing on implementing the MAC model within Moodle (City) and BlackBoard (Reading), and exploring how the components already provided within those VLEs can be used to support this very different process and workflow.

It is perhaps the experiences of City and Reading that will be of most interest.  It’s becoming increasingly evident that there are very strong drivers for the use of existing technologies, particularly extensive systems such as VLEs, for new activities: there is already clear institutional buy-in and commitment to these technologies, institutional processes will (or at least, should!) have been adapted to reflect their integration in teaching practice, and embedding innovative practice within these technologies increases the sustainability of them beyond a limited funding or honeymoon period.  The challenges around getting MAC into Moodle and BlackBoard are those that led to the need for the eReflect tool in the first place: traditional assessment and survey technology simply isn’t designed to accommodate the process of dialogue and the engagement of a student with feedback provided that the MAC process drives.  Of course, Moodle and BlackBoard, representing community-driven open source software and proprietary commercial systems respectively, present very different factors in integrating new processes, and the project teams’ experiences and findings should be of great interest for future developers more generally.

Deployment of the MAC process in such a wide range of institutions, subject areas and technologies will provide a very thorough test of the model’s suitability and relevance for learners, as well as providing a range of implementer experiences and guidance.  I’m looking forward to following the progress of what should be a fascinating implementation and evaluation project, and hope to see learners in other institutions engage as enthusiastically and with such good outcomes as the participants in the original MAC project.

ePortfolios, Y|N?

I retweeted a link to this post yesterday, and promptly found myself in the middle of a storm of debate about the validity and legitimacy of the points it raises.  As it’s not exactly a topic that lends itself to discussion in 140 character chunks, I thought I’d bring it here to see if people want to continue what turned out to be a pretty impassioned and heated discussion.

For my part, I think there are some good points made here.  While I think there’s a definite role for eportfolio technology in certain contexts, I’m not sold on the whole lifelong portfolios for lifelong learners rhetoric, and I don’t think it necessarily meets the needs or desires of learners or teachers.

My biggest issue is that there is a lack of distinction between a portfolio of work that is ultimately intended as an assessment resource to be externally viewed and evaluated, and a student’s body of work which he is supposed to reflect on and learn from.  The intrusion of workplace CPD into this space simply exacerbates this lack of focus and conflicting motivations.  While it may be possible for a single system to fully meet the technical requirements of these very different competing interests, I don’t think that’s necessarily the appropriate approach.  Learning is all about having the freedom and safety to fail, and about taking ownership of our successes and failures in order to grow as learners and as experts in the subject we’re studying.  Having authority over our own work is a fundamental part of that, and something that has to be handed over when that work is used for formal evaluation.

I don’t think we need specialised software in order to retain a record of our learning and progress.  A personal blog can be a powerful tool for reflection, a pen drive of files can be more portable and accessible than a dedicated tool, your youtube or vimeo or flickr channel is more than adequate for preserving your creations.  All of these have permanence beyond the duration of a course: although some institutions will allow continued access to institutional portfolio systems after a student has finished his course of study, it’s not a given and is always subject to change.  Using existing services ironically offers far more opportunity for true lifelong learning than a dedicated system.  And such distributed systems reflect the ways in which people reflect on and share their work outside the walls of the university.  I still have my ‘portfolio’ of my undergraduate work: the printed out essays I handed in with my lecturers’ comments written on them.  That was exactly what I needed as a learner, that’s exactly what I need now should I ever wish to reflect on that period.

For material to be used for assessment, yes, there is a need for secure and reliable storage systems and appropriate standards such as Leap2A and BS8518 to support the exchange of evidence, but the systems and processes should be appropriate to the subject and the material to be assessed rather than assessment being tailored to suit the available systems.

Many thanks to @drdjwalker, @dkernohan, @mweller, @markpower, @jamesclay, @ostephens, @jontrinder and @asimong for joining the discussion on Twitter.