All institutions have a way of assessing their students on how much progress they have made, if they have learned the subject matter, and if the objectives of the class have been met. There are many types of assessments and ways in which these may be delivered.
Rob Howe is the Head of Learning Technology at the University of Northampton. He and his team have spent significant time over the past few years to better support the assessment, grading, and feedback process for students. As part of his role, Rob along with colleagues in the Learning Technology Team started implementing tools that would help staff assess and create a feedback workflow.
Assessments are a critical part of teaching and learning; the marking and grading of an assessment allows the student to progress academically. The assessments exist because it’s important to make sure the student understands the material, that they understand the subject matter with enough ability to make rational choices and decisions based on the topic, and that they meet the required level of proficiency.
Northampton has generally scored 2% higher than the H.E. average for assessment and feedback in the National Student Survey (NSS) over the past few years. The NSS is an annual survey that is targeted at final-year students to give feedback on what it has been like to study at their institutions, the positive points, and what needs to be worked on. Rob says that assessment and feedback have always been important pillars at Northampton, but he explains that when technology came along, it provided new opportunities within this area. Northampton was an early adopter of Blackboard Learn and it was acquired to build on the tools which allowed grading online. In 2007 Northampton also bought a license for the Turnitin application that was integrated within Blackboard Learn. Turnitin was originally software that provided originality reports, but it recently added tools to enhance grading.
Northampton began the e-submission project by initially asking students to submit their work in paper form as well as digital. They quickly realized that via the e-submissions, tutors had all the tools they needed to grade the paper and provide better feedback. With on-paper graded tests it may harder to understand what the tutor’s feedback is because of the limitation in the space of the paper, the handwriting and the amount of papers the tutor grades. As a result of this, the student may not improve, could advance through the course with gaps in their knowledge, and this could lead to lower grades. However when marking online, it is not only easier to read, but teachers can put comments on different sections, they can highlight what is right, what is wrong, and what is missing. This way, the student truly understands how to enhance their work in the next assessment.
In addition to Turnitin, Northampton also invested in Kaltura, a video assessment tool that allows students to hand in assignments that are video and audio based. Kaltura also allows for a feedback workflow to further enhance the student’s learning experience. These tools, alongside the wide variety of tools that Blackboard Learn offers, further expands the types of assessments the University offers.
Rob has a set of advice for institutions that want to create a better assessment and feedback workflow.
• The tools themselves must be robust and capable. Northampton decided to have most of the tools hosted, in order to maximize uptime.
• There is a Jisc Readiness Tool that is available from the Jisc website (Joint Information Systems Committee, a UK based institutions that has the sole purpose of providing digital solutions for UK education and research with the objective that the UK becomes the most digitally advanced higher education provider), and it evaluates where the institution is in terms of assessment and feedback. This is very helpful to guide schools about how to go forward in their assessment and feedback workflow.
• Considering the assessments themselves is very important; tutors should ensure that the assessment truly measures the capability and understanding of a student.
• It may be difficult for some tutors to get used to a new style of marking process, but the benefits in the long run can outweigh the problems.
• There needs to be thorough training for faculty members to use the tools correctly and to help them fully understand how much they can really accomplish.
• Students need to be supported by the tutor and relevant professional support units; students need to know how to make the submissions, and what is expected from him/her in the assessment and how to receive the feedback so they can fully understand and appreciate it.
• Continually refine the process because this is not an exact science. Understand how it evolves, gather feedback from students and find out what they are missing, what could be better, and reevaluate the assessment workflow in order to become better.
Rob explains that Northampton has recognised progress not only through the NSS feedback but also through work with Jisc on the Digital Student Tracker*. This is a survey of student’s expectations and experiences of technology. Northampton was found to be 7% higher than the sector average during the 2016 pilot of this tool.
There is ongoing work to enhance the assessment and feedback workflow at Northampton. Student feedback will continue to be used to be utilized to refine the process and build on effective learning and teaching.
*Taken from the Jisc Digital Student tracker https://www.jisc.ac.uk/rd/projects/student-digital-experience-tracker
*Rob Howe – University of Northampton
*Photos by: AFP Chris J Ratcliffe