Friday, 5 December 2008

Letting go - part two

It is with much disappointment that Helen cannot stay too intimately connected with the project. Not only did she have significant part to play in developing and shaping the bid, (and hence is really attached to the project), but she is just great to work with. We had fun preparing for the two day event and she challenges me regularly to think about what I do.

But Helen has a role across UH and has a major piece of work to do in taking UH’s Learning and Teaching Institute forward. And I know she and the team will do a great job.

And so earlier this week we interviewed for our project co-ordinator. The project coordinator will support me but involve themselves in more of the day-to-day activities. Ideally we are looking for someone with a good understanding of project management, assessment for learning and change management. Hmm, quite a tall order.

Interviewing candidates is a tough process -some candidates you know well others you don’t. It is stressful for all involved. BUT without exception each candidate brought useful qualities to the interview

And so now we have the arduous task of identifying the individual that is likely to be able to best respond to all the demands of the project.

Whilst this is a tough decision it is an exciting that we will bring someone new to the project.

Will keep you informed of our progressed


Friday, 21 November 2008

Letting go...

We are currently reviewing the applications for the post of project manager who will work with Mark, the project director. Once the manager has been appointed I will no longer be directly involved with the project. I will be a member of the steering committee but will be taking a back seat regarding the day-to-day activities. I have to confess that I am feeling a little sad about handing over the project. Mark and I, plus support from other colleagues, wrote the bid in the summer and I have been involved with the project from the beginning. I am passionate about ESCAPE and having met with Academic staff from the relevant Schools, am keen to share their endeavours. It feels very difficult to give something up that I have been so involved with and it’s also sad to walk away after having such a good time at the start up meeting last week. However, other work commitments will be keeping me busy and I shall be watching with interest about how the project develops.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

200 yards with the Business School

The ESCAPE project will work with two Schools - the School of Life Sciences and the Business School. On Monday 17th November I ran a workshop on assessment and feedback for the Business School. Although not specifically tied to the project it was a great opportunity to start/feed into the dialogue on assessment / feedback in the school and in particular help the School to respond to the challenges raised by the National Student Survey (NSS).

I had a full-ish room - (around 40 - 50 people - I think!) I mixed the session up with some presentational material - which mainly focused around principles of good assessment and feedback practice, with the chance for the School to reflect on their own assessment practice and identify where and how their current assessment practice aligns with the principles. We had a really engaging discussion, which naturally included observations suggesting students don’t really understand what feedback is, through to trying to identify opportunities for each person to think about how they can make a small commitment to change.

Although good assessment is an embedded and aligned activity (and not as John Heywood writes ‘too often afterthought of higher education’) assessment practice can be enhanced by constant reflection and a commitment to make on-going small changes.

I am minded of the wonderful notion that I cannot map out how to get to china. But I know how to walk 200 yards - and in 200 yards time I will ask someone else the direction towards china. Join my 200 yards together and soon enough I will be in China.

I challenged the Business School to work with me and help them be the most improved School in the University relating to Assessment and Feedback - NSS wise. Let’s see if they rise to my challenge.

Thanks Business School - great session

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Objects on the table

It was really good to hear about the other JISC funded projects at the start-up meeting. In addition to the two-minute pitch - see previous blog entry - each project team was invited to bring to the meeting an artefact that described the project. These were anonymised and put on a table for us all to tie the artefact with the project. There was naturally a vast array of objects on the table - The justification for the chosen objects was as varied as the objects - we had great fun trying to establish which object related to which project.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Reflecting from the trenches

The brief set by JISC for 2 minute pitches was a great idea and allowed us a snapshot of each of the projects. It was also really interesting to see how other project teams approached the pitch and the creative nature of teams when required to present without PowerPoint.

Interestingly, although used to presenting, we both felt very nervous as we watched the other pitches and waited for our turn. I’m not sure if this was because we had scripted our pitch, which neither of us is used to, or if we just felt out of our comfort zones as a certain degree of acting was required. Either way it was a really useful reminder to us of how some of our students feel when they are challenged to do a presentation.

We both felt that our pitch went well and we had some very nice feedback from other participants - thanks to those who took the time to speak to us.
Following the pitches we were put into cluster groups based on our project interests. It was good to discuss our projects in more detail and share some ideas and offers of support.

Our Pitch

Our two minute pitch was practised and timed at just over three minutes! Sure this is 50% over the allotted time, but surely the JISC would let us run on a bit - they will wont they? We decided to see how others got on, see how ruthless with the clock the JISC would be, and if needed, do some last minute editing. Arriving at the event we had a quick scan of the agenda. This said we would be CUT OFF after two minutes. Hmm. Now what? Oh, and this was to be the first session too - so no time to decide exactly what we would cut.

We sat and listened to the first pitch - The College of West Anglia gave a succinct and well planned presentation of their project with a bit of role play which set an immediate high standard. They timed it perfectly and after the two minute timer had run, down the National Anthem automatically played. Given our Great Escape analogy, we wondered - we just wondered…

Our turn arrived - given the really tight timing we played the Great Escape theme tune (through an mda) as we walked up to get ready - this we hoped would set the scene. With the theme tune playing we launched into our pitch and as the time ran out, the National Anthem started just as I was just making the point about us fighting the enemies of the bad assessment, in the classrooms, in the VLE’s and in the staffrooms. The National Anthem (for us) was a great addition - shame we did not think of it - thank you JISC for not cutting us off! We enjoyed that session.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Modelling appropriate behaviours

Having established our pitch idea - we went through a series of ways in which to reinforce the analogy - we really wanted to use pictures of the characters from the film backed with pictures of our real life ESCAPE team. We also wanted to rouse the listeners with a background play of ‘the great escape’ theme tune. We were on a roll.

It then dawned on us - copyright :-( neither of us are copyright experts - but we are sensitive to the issue and wanted to be sure we did not infringe copyright law. We sought no personal gain or profit from the use but were simply unsure of the rules of use. In the Learning and Teaching Institute/Blended Learning Unit at the University Hertfordshire - one of our values is modelling appropriate behaviours - clearly we could not knowingly ‘sneak-in’ copyright photo’s or music and at the same time believe we were modelling. We took advice from within UH and it seems as though we could not use the pictures.

Naturally in no way did we wish to gain profit from the use of others work but we felt really deflated at how the law impacted on what we wanted to do. Although our limited creativity was stifled, the sock-idea remained in the laptop case.

Oh, the music - that’s another story - Helen’s magical brass ensemble (‘shakin’ that brass) played the theme tune to purchased music. Go Brass Shakers! A dodgy recording later and we’re back on track. I think they will be able to tell that it is not the original sound track!

Starting out: project kick-off meeting.

We were invited to the two day JISC workshop (getting going and getting to know each other). The invitation e-mail set the tone of the day’s activities which were described as being interactive, lively and relaxed. Jeans and tee shirts were the order of the day. Naturally not only would we hear a little more about the project strand from the JISC but we would also have an opportunity to share to the group a little more about our project.

To help us to share the JISC challenged the teams to make a pitch to JISC tv-
The rules of engagement were …
In your 2 minute pitch tell us:
  • The Plot (the challenges you are facing and how you intend to address them)
  • The Characters (an introduction to the project team and key stakeholders)
  • The Target Audience (who will benefit from the success of your project?)
  • Why we should watch this project (why is it of interest to the wider sector?)

Hmm, neither of us (Helen Barefoot & Mark Russell) felt particularly creative - but we knew we did not want to just ‘stand-and-deliver’

After a sock was found in Mark’s laptop case we ventured the idea of sock puppetry. It didn’t take too long to realise this was a no-goer.

Our project title ESCAPE represents our core ideals - to create and maintain Effective Sustainable Change in Assessment Practices and Experience. Hmmm ESCAPE, plot, characters - Steve McQueen came to mind - Or Helen’s at least!

And so our pitch centred on drawing an analogy between ‘The Great Escape’ and our work’.
We identified the central characters - the Squadron Leader, the Tunnel King, the Cooler King, the Forger, the Scrounger, Mud-Movers and the Kommandant. And related them to our project team. Although there is some fun in the pitch - we believe the analogy works and in no way are we trivialising the issue.

Let’s see how others receive the pitch!

What's this blog about?

This blog describes the University of Hertfordshire's endeavours on the ESCAPE project. The ESCAPE project (Effective Sustainable Change in Assessment Experiences and Practices) is funded by the JISC under their Curriculum Delivery Call.

Our full project proposal can be found here

We are really excited about the opportunities the project will bring to enhance the student assessment and hence learning experience.

The project start date was the November 2008
The project duration is 24 months
The project is being directed and managed by the Blended Learning Unit /Learning and Teaching Institute

We will post regular updates and welcome comments and thoughts.