Evaluating feedback for elearning: centralised tutors

Providing fast, focused feedback to a cohort of 200 busy professionals undertaking vocational distance learning with tuition provided by a diminishing number of tutors, a number of whom are part-time, is definitely a challenging undertaking, and one for which the TQFE-Tutor system at the University of Dundee provides an innovative centralised approach.  The Evaluating Feedback for eLearning: Centralised Tutors (EFFECT) project, part of the JISC Assessment and Feedback programme Strand B, will be exploring the impact of this system and considering ways of further refining the process to maximise efficiency and student benefits.

Students studying on the Teaching Qualification (Further Education) programme at Dundee since the start of the 2010-11 session have been supported by a centralised tutor system that enables consistency and timeliness of feedback across the entire programme.  TQFE-tutor consists of a centralised email account, blog and microblogging site to which all tutors on the course have access.  Rather than students being assigned a personal tutor (who may have as little as 0.1 FTE allocated to the programme), support is provided by the entire team acting through the centralised account.  Students may email the TQFE-Tutor email address or post comments via the programme blog, with duty staff picking up queries and assignments as they arrive.  Programme announcements can be disseminated via the programme Twitter account, offering time and potentially cost savings.

As well as significantly increasing efficiency – students are guaranteed a response to any submission within two days, and usually receive one much faster – there are more subtle but equally important pedagogic benefits.  Feedback and advice provided to an individual can then be disseminated, suitably anonymised, to the rest of the current cohort via the TQFE-tutor blog; these entries also remain available for future years.  The accumulation of an effectively tagged bank of data supports independent learning while peer interaction and support enriches the learning process.  The use of Blackboard Safe Assign in place of paper submission has also helped streamline the assessment process and reduce administrative workloads.  Student achievement rates have risen, and the system may well contribute to increased retention.

You can follow the project’s progress over the next few months via their project blog, from which project outputs will also be available in due course.

Student-generated content for learning

Finding ways of engaging learners while maximising their learning, without negatively impacting on either staff or student workloads and that fit constrained institutional budgets is no small task, but the Student-Generated Content for Learning: Enhancing Engagement, Feedback and Performance project based at the University of Edinburgh is evaluating the use of technology that seems to do just that.

PeerWise, developed by the Department of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, is a free system designed not only to allow students to develop and publish their own questions but also to support a variety of social activities around those questions.  As well as simply answering others’ questions to test their own knowledge, students can also comment on questions, rate them and develop discussions around questions.  Of even more value is the ability for students to develop their own questions which – as the site explains – provides a number of pedagogic benefits to learners.  Students rapidly developed a strong sense of ownership of the online space and actively maintained and nurtured it, developing a very strongly supportive environment based on collaboration and shared responsibility for information accuracy and quality.

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the system is the way in which it can be used outside scheduled class times, as it is an inherently asynchronous model of dialogue and interaction.  This has proven particularly effective in supporting distance and placement students as it provides a very real sense of engagement with their peers and with their academic studies even when out of regular physical contact.

Edinburgh’s use of PeerWise was initially piloted in  undergraduate courses in Physics and Biology, and it is being extended to a wider range of courses and subject areas as part of this evaluation work.  In order to engage as many students as possible a small amount of the overall course mark was allocated to activity in PeerWise, with student-authored questions forming the basis for a question on the final examination of the course.  Scaffolding activities around question design encouraged students to consider their own misunderstandings of course material and resulted in exceptionally high quality materials reflecting the depth of learning and quality of engagement.

The project’s website is a rich source of resources around this work while the team’s blog provides reflection on the day-to-day progress of the project.  SGC4L is funded by JISC as part of the Assessment and Feedback programme Strand B.

The evaluation of assessment diaries and GradeMark at the University of Glamorgan

Two major, institution-wide innovations introduced in recent years at the University of Glamorgan are the subject of this project, funded as part of the JISC Assessment and Feedback Programme Strand B.

Arising as a result of a Change academy project running from 2008-10, the use of assessment diaries for scheduling and planning assessment, and GradeMark for online marking, have been adopted across the institution to various extents within different schools and faculties.  This new JISC project will examine the reasons for variation in adoption and explore staff and student experiences of these technologies as well as exploring strategies for staff development to encourage wider uptake.

The assessment diary system is a very simple, but very elegant approach to dealing with the issue of assessment bunching, identified by Glamorgan students as a major issue undermining learning and assessment performance.  Initially the problem was addressed simply by widely sharing assessment due dates for all courses within staff Outlook calendars, but considerable development work since then has resulted in an MS Access database backend with a web interface in Blackboard.  Seamless integration with Blackboard through a building block provides a single point of access to this information which can be fully personalised by both students and staff.  This provides a highly visual way of understanding the rhythms of course workload and has been very successful in helping students manage their time and plan their work in relation to assessment deadlines.  Staff have also found that the ease of access to detailed information on course timings has facilitated dialogue amongst staff across a range of courses and reflect more effectively on the student learning experience when redesigning or rescheduling modules.  Those departments that were early adopters of the diaries have seen significant improvement in their National Student Survey scores for feedback, and the diaries are also believed to have positively impacted on student retention rates.

By contrast, GradeMark is a commercial online marking tool within Turnitin that is gathering increasing adoption in the UK.  Adopted across the University of Glamorgan since 2009, it is seen as addressing a number of student dissatisfactions with feedback, including timeliness, level of detail and, importantly, the development and maintenance of a meaningful dialogue between both students and teachers, and amongst teachers themselves.  Both students and staff have responded very positively to the tool in an initial evaluation of its impact, and the current project will be able to explore its impact in greater detail.

Project outputs will include a series of video interviews with students and both teaching and administrative staff which will be freely available as OERs on YouTube, together with Panopto recordings of staff development and training sessions for asynchronous viewing.  The team is also exploring the use of online avatars for staff development discussions and scenario roleplaying, an exciting approach that has worked very successfully at the University of Hong Kong and which I hope to follow up in a later post.

The project’s blog is well worth a read to see how the team go about their evaluation and some of the issues they encounter on their journey.

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.

Under development: SWANI

Anyone who’s ever worked on a European funded project or programme will be all too familiar with the volume of paperwork and time spent on administration and auditing to meet European funding and reporting requirements.  Digital signatures, although highly time and cost efficient, are not acceptable for auditing purposes with only hand signed documentation being permitted.

As part of a consortium providing a significant amount of European funded work based learning in Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr were keen to find a solution that would meet both European and Welsh Assembly Government requirements for hand written signatures as well as providing the elegance and efficiency of the online learner management and learner support systems colleges and tutors wished for.

The Secure Work-Based Learning Administration through Networked Infrastructure (SWANI) project, funded under the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants SWaNI FE programme, therefore set out to identify ways of addressing this tension and establish a pilot project as a proof of concept to form the basis of a long term solution.

After some research the project team settled on the Fastdox digital document system as offering exactly the combination of hand signed originals and timestamped digital copies necessary to meet the needs of all parties.

The documents to be signed are created in a MySQL database supported by a very user friendly and remotely accessible web interface.  These are then printed using the Fastdox software which applies a unique pattern of microscopic dots to the physical document to communicate with the digital pen.  The pen functions just like an ordinary pen, allowing trainers to sign the documents normally and therefore produce the required hand signed physical document, but the pen also stores all the written information, time stamped, for later downloading into the online learner management and auditing system: an excellent overview of the entire process is available from the product site itself and an exploration of how it was put into practice can be found on the project’s blog.  At between £4-500 for each pen and software package it represents a one-time investment that fulfils a long term requirement, requires little training for tutors to use and meets all the requirements the project set out to address – indeed, the biggest problem the project team ran into was the lack of standardisation in documents across WBL providers and changes to the document design part way through the project which required some revision.

With the pilot now coming to a close, the project team will be adding further information to the project website and undertaking a series of dissemination activities.  Their solution should be useful not only to FE colleges with similar funding and auditing requirements but for anyone looking for efficient and effective digital document management and tracking.

Under development: xGames

xgames-logoThe xGames project, a collaboration between Reid Kerr and Anniesland colleges, has been running for nearly a year and is currently in the final stages of piloting its innovative use of wireless xBox360 controllers for classroom quizzes.  Funded as part of the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants: SWaNI (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) FE programme, the project has produced a highly user friendly question editor to allow complete novices to quiz and game design to easily author questions.  These questions can then be played in one of several games designed by the project on a large screen linked to a standard Windows PC fitted with USB receivers for up to four wireless xBox controllers.  Using wireless controllers is crucial as the range of the sensors allows a great deal of flexibility in classroom set up, permitting the use of breakout groups to discuss topics and feedback, for example.  Additionally, xBox controllers are familiar to many learners who are more confident using them than PC gaming.

The video below demonstrates the system’s use in a primary school classroom, and the engagement and enthusiasm of the children is immediately obvious, with lively discussions about the quiz questions and clear enjoyment of the session, the immediate indication of correct and incorrect answers providing instant feedback to the pupils.  The use of the large screen allows the teacher to constantly maintain a clear overview of the progress of the entire class, allowing her to identify topics that are generally not understood and which require whole class revision or struggling individuals within the group.  Discussion amongst the older group of college students is more muted, but their focus on the game mechanics and subject matter is evident.


The games, screenshots for which can be found under the games menu on the project site (software will be available from this site in due course), are designed using industry standard software such as XNA Game Studio, 3D Studio Max, Fireworks and Illustrator, with the question editor using a Visual Basic form for generating plain text files containing the question stem, distractors and correct response.  Unlike a commercial system such as Quia, questions are stored in a shared public folder so they can easily be shared and reused by teachers in different institutions.  XGames has generated interest from FE and, particularly, schools, and may well see further uptake as an affordable and easily adopted way of bringing game based learning into more classrooms.

First CFP for CAA 2012 now out

The first Call for Papers for the 2012 International CAA Conference: Research into E-Assessment is now available on the conference website, which also includes links to previous proceedings and a wide range of other important information about the event.

The conference will take place on 10-11 July in Southampton, and is jointly organised by Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton and the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University.

Thanks to @drdjwalker for the heads up :)

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.