Friday, 13 November 2009

eBiolabs University of Bristol

We have been really impressed by the eBiolabs project at the University of Bristol - one of the three other project in our cluster. The project has many resonances with the work we are doing with one of our 9 modules -" Introduction to Biochemistry, Microbiology and Pharmacology". The module contains a large element of practical work and the eBiolabs approach of preparing students before they undertake the practicals by taking them through a series of online tasks. This element of engagement prior to the practical work itself and the corresponding post practical online tasks would be something that we would like to incorporate in the module.

We have spoken with Gus Cameron - the eBiolabs project manager and we are hoping to be able to use some of the stand-alone resources that his team have produced. This is an exciting opportunity for projects to start to disseminate the products that they have developed. We In turn anticipate that the case studies that we are developing along with our change management model - incorporating the AI approach will become widely available to others. The use of the JISC Design Studio is the ideal forum for such dissemination of project deliverables

Collateral Effects

The ESCAPE project is at its most critical and interesting stage - we have launched the new assessments with 8 of the 9 modules we are working with ( one is starting in semester b) and we are closely monitoring the results. Each of the modules has a different approach with some changing things drastically other less so. It is interesting to see the role that technology is playing with the use of virtual groups, wikis and flipcams in some modules - while others rely on a total realignment of the pedagogy and eschewing a technological aspect to the re-enginerring and concentrating on the pedagogical delivery in a traditional way - albeit constructively realigned.

We have been trying to capture the collateral effects that the project has had on teaching and learning across the schools. Examples include people trying approaches new to assessment that have spilled over from the project into other modules that they teach on. We are seeing things such as a sports coaching module using wikis as a collaborative vehicle with groups of students. A second year accounting module using virtual group work. The most interesting and unexpected secondary effect was a colleague taking a ESCAPE flipcam to the arctic with master's students and recording a not been recorded before ice flow phenomenon. It is this kind of unplanned but hoped for secondary effect that underpins our hopes for the sustainability of the project.

We are looking to post the video of the phenomenon on our University of Hertfordshire iTunesU channel.

Continuing with the video theme, we are looking a producing a series of quick instructional videos with Bio Science students for use in their laboratory sessions - demonstrating practical techniques. looking for inspiration and to show the team what was already available I looked on YouTube and was amazed at the number of instructional videos that are already available online. Clearly this is a popular subject and one where there are already off the shelve resources available.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Sustainability – thoughts from the Experts.

The JISC operate a Pedagogic Experts Group which I have been fortunate to have been a member for a little while. At a recent event a cluster from the Curriculum Design programme were invited to engage the experts as were a cluster from the Curriculum Delivery programme. We (ESCAPE) were part of the Curriculum Delivery cluster invited to talk to the Experts. I jumped at the chance and suggested that our session be about sustainability.

I am keen that our project does not wither on the vine when the funding runs out, nor do I want our leaning to stay confined to us at UH. And so I was keen that we didn’t just engage in a traditional show-and-tell routine but use the Experts Group to help shape and / or validate our thinking on sustaining our projects.

After a brief into from Malcolm Ryan – the critical friend of the cluster, Gunter Saunders outlined some of the work from Westminster’s project. I followed and briefly introduced ESCAPE. We then moved to ask the group …

* What would you do to ensure that the projects are not sustained ! (reversing the question is just great to get the ideas flowing ) and

* What one thing would you suggest the projects consider / do to ensure the sustainability of the projects.

Some great ideas flowed

Working with Dominic we I will go through the list and use the thoughts / ideas to challenge our own work.

I always like the buzz that seems to be present at the JISC Experts Group and I was particularly (selfishly?) pleased that some of the buzz and thinking will flow into our ESCAPE project.

ESCAPE – surfacing and using existing technologies.

A few years back I developed a technology rich assessment programme. The approach to assessment uses technology to create, collect, mark and provide feedback on student-unique, Weekly Assessed Tutorial Sheets (WATS). The WATS approach to assessment was developed to support my own engineering undergraduates but has also been used and influenced practice elsewhere - both inside and outside the university.

The ESCAPE project provided another opportunity to showcase the WATS approach to assessment and debate how it might respond to the challenges of the ESCAPE partner schools.

Due to the ESCAPE project, the School of Life Sciences are now engaging with WATS. In addition to using the WATS approach to assessment in ways which we already know supports students‘ learning,, the School of Life Sciences have put a new twist on its use. The School of Life Sciences are using WATS to set tasks in IBMAP – a core module taken by many students. The students tackle weekly tasks and are presented with prompt and personalised feedback. Additionally, the students’ performance data is fed to the students’ personal tutors. Now the students study profiles, and performance form a useful part of the pastoral care conversations. Although not specifically developed to support pastoral care, the nature of the data that flows form the WATS approach to assessment suggests it can readily be used, not only to support learning and shape teaching, but provide early warning signs of struggling students.

I will keep you posted of how the WATS approach to assessment shapes up in the IBMAP.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Collateral Effects

As the ESCAPE project moves forward through its various stages it is becoming increasingly apparent that thee are a great many collateral effects from the project. Many of the conversations that are taking place include references to stakeholders using the techniques , technologies and practices that they have been exposed to in modules other than the "official ESCAPE "ones. There are many incidences of the ESCAPE influences spilling over in to related module areas. Examples include:
  • a new approach to supporting practical work in Life Sciences, using short videos of practical techniques made available on studynet.This will have a wider impact across the school on other modules that use practical work
  • The increased use of flip cams as a teaching aid - with students being encouraged to produce their own videos
  • the adoption and embedding of the WATS mathematical tutorial system across a number of on ESCAPE modules, rather than the initially envisaged single module
  • approaches to group work and submission of draft course work - whilst not adopted in a particular level 3 ESCAPE module being considered relevant for a level 1 non ESCAPE module, that the module leader teaches on.
  • ESCAPE module leaders starting to act as "agents for change " across other modules and with other module teams - this is possibly a consequence of the growing confidence felt by the ESCAPE participants

It will be interesting to see how these collateral effects develop, as they will be key to the project's sustainability over the long term - when the ESCAPE pebble is sitting at the bottom of the pond its ripples will still be felt!

Poster and Video

This last week we have been involved in the production poster and video in preparation for a joint meeting of the curriculum design and the curriculum development projects in Manchester on the 13th and 14th of October. The poster is a visual representation of the stages and mechanisms of the project. It captures the journey through the project by the stake holders and illustrates the approaches taken at the various stages of the project by the ESCAPE team. It was influenced heavily by the change management development activities that we were involved in at our last CAMEL meeting. One of the aspects of change management was looking at a four stage model of change management, viz:
  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Trying
  • Adopting

It was interesting mapping our project activities to these four stages and realising the the stages were not atomic- that is to say that they could overlap - and that it was possible for stakeholders to drop back a stage( or two!).

The poster does not really capture the complexity of what we are doing - for example we are working with 9 different module teams, with some module attempting quite complex and innovative changes in assessment practice, but is a good start as a "top layer" map of the project.

I am now working on a three minute flip cam video that will introduce the ESCAPE project and include a stakeholder voice. This along with videos introducing all the other projects, can be found at - a JISC dedicated channel on YouTube.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Cluster Meeting

We have just returned from our latest CAMEL meeting with our three cluster partners - The Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Westminster. The meeting was hosted by the team from Westminster at their New Cavendish Street site, and as usual was held over two days. One of the most important aspects of these meetings is the chance to meet colleagues and to share our experiences of how our projects are going.
The first day consisted of a couple of really informative session on change management followed by a computer simulation exercise which involved guiding a change management through to completion. Needles to say it started to get quite competitive with teams eager to claim victory. The simulation was in many respects quite realistic and mirrored some of the issues that arise in the ESCAPE project.
The evening was spent catching up with the experiences of the other teams and mapping out the coming year. Plans for the joint JISC Curriculum D&D Programme Meeting in October were discussed over a very pleasant evening meal with the other teams.
On the second day we were asked to give a short presentation on the progress we have made - specifically looking at pedagogical tools that we had developed.The University of Bristol team demonstrated their eBiolabs project . They have developed an interactive online laboratory manual that is designed to prepare and support students through their practical work. The resource being developed is an excellent one and builds on previous work done by the chemists at Bristol, who had a similar project.The link to eBiolabs is and is well worth a look.
We were able to talk about our experiences at Hertfordshire and the kinds of approaches that we have taken. We outlined the progress made and mapped out how we saw the next six months as the new assessment landscape is bedded in.
Due to building work being carried out at Exeter we will be hosting the next CAMEL meeting which is scheduled for around April 2010.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Now the hard work really starts!

At present I am in the process of meeting with the module co-coordinators to flesh out their plans for re-engineering their assessment regime. This picks up from the work done in July in the assessment re-engineering workshops that we ran. This was a chance for the module teams to reflect on their current practice and to start to apply some of the Appreciative Inquiry techniques that we have been looking at. This includes using reflective interviews to tease out what works well on the module and use this as a basis for the review of the assessments.We are also using "Fish bone Analysis" as a tool to get the teams to see what needs to occur for the re-engineering to happen.
Rachel Harris from Inspire Research has worked with the project team over the last year on the AI approach - acting in a consultancy role. Rachel lead a couple of the sessions at our two day event and writes about her experience in her blog
I have just finished the draft interim report for the project. This is a good chance for us to reflect on the progress made over the last year with the project. It is quite sobering to think that we are halfway through the life of the project - now we are at the really exciting stage where we can really start to influence the assessment practice in the schools.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Mud moving in Africa

A few weeks a go we ran a 2 day workshop for ESCAPE module leaders and some of their team members. It was really useful to consider the modules in details. The module leaders used a fishbone analysis to identify areas for improvement and the actions required. The activities were then transfered to a time line. With the support of the ESCAPE team it will be really exciting to see the changes occurring.

Much of the discussions involved consideration of the use of technologies to improve effectiveness whilst ensuring efficiency. We talked about the use of video with students, using Camtasia and Cam studio, podcasts, an assessment managment/marking tool, WATS, online submission, tablet PCs ... all sorts of options that we are lucky enough to have access to.

I have just returned from visiting friends who are doing voluntary work in Ghana. It was a very humbling trip. I took a tour around a technical college (16-19yr) (Cape Tech- see video) and Cape Coast University. The lack of faciltites shocked me and trying to teach practical subjects e.g. buidling techniques, biology, optometry and physics, with little, if any, equipment must be incredibly difficult.

My friends, Vicky and Steve Ager are teaching at HE and FE, respectively. These are their first teaching roles so it was fun to sit with them and to think about how then can encorporate active learning and collaborative activities within their sessions and how to improvise practical classes with basic and cheap alternatives to the equipment we are accustomed too (e.g. using drinking straws to simulate scaffolding). The basis for our discussions were Chickering and Gamson's (1987) Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. My friends soon started identifying where they could meet the priniples within different activitites.

'Encouraging contact between students and lecturers' and 'Developing reciprocity and cooperation among students' will be achieved when students gain valuable work experience within community projects e.g working in the local eye clinic. The students from the technical college will literally do some mud moving when they help with the construction of a mother's union building.

Visiting Ghana reminded me that we don't always need the latest technologies or equipment to ensure a valuable learning experience. Our intention is always to focus on the learning primarily and then to consider how we can use technologies which are fit for purpose and enhance efficiency. I am incredibly grateful that we live in a country where we have access to the equipment and resources we need.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words

last week I attended the Greenwich e-Learning conference. It was really good to see so many colleges there from the He and FE sector. It was also a chance to catch up with Malcolm Ryan one of the co - organisers and our projects critical Friend. The Conference is always informative and enjoyable - this year was no exception.
Interestingly there were also presentations from secondary schools - who it seems are really starting to use e-learning in innovative ways. A particularly interesting example was that of a school using reflective blogs with pupils, to capture their developmental journey over a year. Looking at the honesty and sophistication of the some of the later postings the pupils made and comparing them with the initial ones really showed how the students had matured in their use of reflection as a tool in personal development.

The Keynote speaker was Professor Jonathan Drori a former BBC producer. His personal insights into what made a good learning experience really opened the minds of the audience. He spoke passionately about how learning is a personal thing and was able to illustrate some of the many misconceptions people have about what constitutes a good learning experience. It was interesting to hear him relate his experiences of life as a broadcaster and the opportunities he has had to challenge peoples ideas on education. The pictures at the top of the post are from his presentation. It is of an art gallery in York that invited people to write on a wall what the pictures meant to them. The idea of being able to interact in this way - individually but also collaboratively had resonances with what we were trying to achieve.

It was good to be able to take so many of the Cable3.0 team with me to the conference. We have been working very hard for a year on developing virtual groups of students to work across the four FE colleges in Hertfordshire. And it was an excellent opportunity for them to get an idea what others were doing in the sector.

We are now in full preparation mode for the major re-engineering event planned for the 21st and 22nd July. This will involve 8 of the 9 modules we are working with. The first day will be spent reflecting on the current practice and looking at some possible solutions. This is followed by a day of re-engineering, working with the module coordinators to start to put into place the assessment for learning tasks that should add value to the student experience.
As an interesting aside we were able to travel to Greenwich on a mix of travel modes: Car, train , TUBE ,DLR and by boat along the Thames - a truly blended approach to travel !

Friday, 26 June 2009

Railway Journey

Yesterday I attended the "Engaging and Responding to Learners" workshop run by JISC 'in Birmingham. It was an extremely valuable day - both in terms of the workshop content and as a forum to network and engage with colleagues on other projects.

I took the train from Euston. The different types bright shiny new rolling stock that seemed to appear briefly and then whizz past the window provided an interesting distraction during the journey. It struck me that when there was just British Rail operating the railways, there was a one size fits all policy - such that often trains would depart having four, eight or eleven nearly empty carriages.

The situation on the railways has a parallel with education - we are investing heavily in technological solutions for the students educational journeys. There is much more willingness to look at bespoke solutions and to embrace new ways of thinking than stay with the one size fits all delivery mechanisms of the past. The result? - faster smoother journeys for all!

For those interested - on my journey the train was hauled by a EWS Class 90 and I returned to Euston on a Virgin Pendolino

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Casting Bread On The Water.................

Yesterday afternoon we went live with the student assessment survey. We emailed all students registered on the nine modules that we are working with, to invite them to fill in the survey. The university exam period only ended last Friday . We were unsure when students would log on again to pick up their university emails after their post exam celebrations and the consequent recuperation period ! When I checked this morning there were 51 responses already! many students have given quite detailed feedback on their assessment experience , filling out the optional parts of the survey with their thoughts and suggestions. Lets hope that this level of response continues.This data is really important - along with the module case studies, it will provide us with the information to ensure the assessment benchmarking exercise is as comprehensive as it can be.
Regarding our two day event - one of our module teams is having difficulty making the dates - 21 and 22 July, so we are looking to have a separate event . This module is the most complex in terms of the delivery and assessment modes and has the largest module team. It is a Bio Science double credit module that encompasses three different areas of science.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

It's a Two Day Event

Things are starting to pick up speed with the project. We are planning a two day off site event at the university conference venue - the Fielder Centre. The likely date is towards the end of July - once all the exam boards are out of the way. The aim of the event is to give the nine module teams that we are working with the time and space to critically examine their assessment and feedback practices. And also then to start the reengineering process. We are planing ( at this early stage)the two days to be a mixture of presentations , facilitated workshops and module team meetings. The module teams will be able to call on the resources of BLU and the LTI to examine the particular pedagogical and technological aspects of possible assessment scenarios. In particular we are calling on our experts in curriculum design and change management.

By the end of this week all the module coordinators will have had appreciative enquiry reflective interviews in order to build up case studies of how the module is delivered and assessed . These case studies along with data from the student assessment surveys that we are carrying out, will give us a really clear picture of the issues surrounding each particular module. They will become the jumpimg off point for the reengineering process .

Friday, 15 May 2009

What if ?................

It has been another busy couple of weeks.The reflective interviews are continuing with the module coordinators and module teams from the four Business School modules that we are working with. As I transcribe these interviews the passion that the lecturers have for their subject shines through. I suspect as long as the passion is there any problems can be overcome. I have had a positive reception from every one in the schools I have been working with and people are keen to share what they feel the issues are and how they (and we!) can work towards a improving the student engagement and attainment.

The next phase is to start to build up case studies using the interview material and the information gleaned from the base line audit of assessment practice that we have carried out. The case studies are quite comprehensive as the explore the module assessment landscape from the perspective of the people who set and assess the assignments . It will detail the role played by individual lecturers in assessment and teaching on a module and look to build a holistic picture of the subsequent assessment experience of a student taking the module. We are looking beneath the surface of the assessment practice to see exactly how and why the module works the way it does.

We are also trying to capture the student view via a student assessment questionnaire and are looking to conduct some focus groups. This information will be critical to our evaluation of the project to look at the before and after picture of student engagement and attainment on the modules.

We are now starting to thing about the next phase of the project - the most exciting - that of the re engineering of the module - this is when we dare to ask "What if ?"

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Twitter - a tool for education 2!

Had a really stimulating comment to my earlier post re Twitter and education - Thank you Anne Marie - It's just great that people read this stuff :-)

Okay, I know I should post this as a comment but I did not want to lose my thoughts in a comment - I also cheekily thought that other comments might flow to this post with some other ideas.

Blogging, by the way, is just great for getting you thinking and comments on the blog take that thinking to the next level. I like blogging me and I like learning too :-) Keep them comments coming. Rambling now. hmm, not so good after all. To business ...

The comment related to the use of Twitter as a tool for educational purposes and what might it *really* add in terms of communicating with students. I have to agree that was aligned with my original thoughts too. i.e. What seriously can we do with 140 chars? But after my introductory tour from Lindsay Jordan, and observations that I should immerse myself and have a go, I have become converted.

... and so I can honestly see some uses of Twitter for genuine educational gains. Sure, it's not the answer to everything, but little is. An essay does not explore students' numerical understanding nor their practical problem solving ability. In fact you might argue that a 3000 word essay does little to promote crispness of thought. Equally, Twitter has a certain functionality that might limit it's use but its functionality might be useful in specific situations.

I have dumped a few thoughts together with a minor preamble ...

I'm keen on Just-In-Time-Teaching (JiTT) (Novak et al) and also the Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT) wonderfully described, collated and themed by Angelo and Cross.

Hence how about using Twitter as a tool to collect responses to a One Minute Paper?

* What did you learn today?
* what was the stickiest / muddiest point?
* What questions remian uppermost in your mind?
* What two things do you want me to cover next week?
* What question do you think your peers should be able to answer based on this weeks lecture.

I'm sure you get the picture and can add to my quick question list. Using a #hashtag will allow you to keep all the response together for each weeks questions. Not only do you get them thinking but you get a large resource for them to review.

I'm keen too that we see our students as valuable resources and so from one post each (in a class of 100) they get to see 100 posts - not a bad return.

I have written elsewhere that some of these questions they might just copy - and indeed that might be okay for the muddiest point etc, but other questions might explicitly require an individual response.

i.e. drawing on today's lecture relate the content / concept / idea to an experience that you have had. i.e. get them to relate it to them. That way they can't copy.

And then you write if your idea is already on the list then you have to write another. Not only does that get reading what others have posted, which in itself is good, but it gets them doing stuff quickly - i.e. reduces cramming - helps develop reflection and inculcates an appropriate study pattern

* What about asking students to post think-alouds to Twitter outside the class as they are thinking about the module? Guess these should really be called tweet-alouds (Russell, 2009).

* You might go further and ask if you had 140 characters per post and you could 5 posts two days after the lecture what would you posts be? Make those posts now.

* Or, as you open up the coursework what things are you thinking?
What theories will you draw on?
How will you show that ...

I think all of these have some genuine potential and could be used both inside the class (CAT) and also outside the class Non-CAT! and to support adaptive teaching, student centered teaching or JiTT.


(ps am I rambling still?)


Twitter - a tool for education?

A couple of weeks back I posted a fairly edgy item to a discussion forum entitled ‘twitter – tool or toy?’

My motivation was to see how it was being used and gain some insights into what we can really do in a teaching, learning and assessment context with 140 characters.

Twitter is limited to 140 character input and also was founded on the simple premise of the staus update found in Facebook etc. i.e. what are you doing now.

The forum entry took a couple of quick responses (notably from Twitter enthusiasts that were gentle enough not to berate my ignorance but to say, ‘have a go’. I wanted to make a reasoned judgement on its usefulness and so ‘have a go I did’ Or rather am!

I was fortunate enough to get a bit of a guided tour and given advice as to what it might / might not do. Twitter, I was told, does not do everything and rather than think of it a tool to engage in meaningful dialogue, why not use it as a seed to establish the dialogue and then take it elsewhere?

Well, I have to say that (at the moment) I’m sold. I like the connections I am forming and I like the so-called micro-blogging. I have used it to engage in back channel conversations at conferences and also at JISC meetings. I tweeted whilst at the recent Curriculum Delivery Programme meeting relating to Change and enjoyed reading the tweets coming out of sister Curriculum Design Programme meeting relating to Change.

Sure, I tell my followers what I’m up to – which includes my gym habits but I also use it for throwing out some thoughts relating to teaching, learning and assessment.

I really think Twitter-type tools have a place in education. 140 characters is much less daunting to a student than a blank blog page when responding to the questions such as ‘what did you get from today’s lecture?’

I’m going to take twitter to our ESCAPE teams and see what they make of it.

Oh, want to follow me and my gym exploits? I’m MarkRussell

Electonic Voting Systems - a workshop to the University of Northampton

Out of the blue I received an invite to present some of my Electronic Voting Systems (EVS) activity to the University of Northampton - which was nice :-) It’s always good to get invited out, show your stuff and gain insights from others too.

After a few false starts we finally managed to fix a date.

I am always slightly weary of being asked to talk about technology. I’m much more interested in talking about teaching, learning and assessment and then, and only then, move to discussing the potential for technology. I took the same slant at my two hour session in Northampton. Numbers were much lower than I had anticipated, and hoped for, but nevertheless those that turned up were really engaged and contributed lots to the session. Thank you!

I opened by asking them to describe what they thought supported learning in a non-technology rich space. Lindsay Jordan and I did the same exercise at a workshop at the Plymouth e-learning Conference.

Lot’s of useful things came out including the value of

* Feedback
* Safety of the environment
* Being able to show what you know and what you don’t
* Dialogue
* Collaboration
* Enthusiasm

I collected these ideas and located them against what we already know about good learning. Anyone that knows me will be bored with my affinity with the Seven Principles … (Chickering and Gamson), the How People Learn framework (Bransford et al) and also the ideas behind Learning that Lasts (Mentkwoski and associates).

The idea was to show that good learning is good learning. We then moved to see how EVS might respond to some of the principles. I showed some of my work which also included the linking of questions to show the irony of some of the students’ answers, answer guessing and genuine knowledge of concepts.

I think the participants liked the idea. It makes a change from the more obvious use of EVS. I also showed the students views on the use of EVS in the module.

I closed the session with a rather non-conventional slide for an EVS session. I was really saying that my approach was not about EVS but rather about responding to principles (relating to learning) and that might these principles be served by technologies – and as for my last slide, by other technologies too.

Why do I need to buy expensive handsets when many students have mobile phones? What about digital ink on student own pc’s? Further, given that most disciplines, like life, is not multiple choice, what about technologies such as Twitter to engage students in class?

I enjoyed the session and got some great feedback afterwards – people buzzing apparently!

I am aware that Northampton is about to ramp-up its EVS activity and I wish them well with their endeavours

Thanks for the invite and for giving me a chance to hear about your work and present some of mine.

Both the Schools engaged in the ESCAPE project (Life Sciences & the Business School) use EVS but I would want to run a session with them to see how systematically they are using it to support student learning - I would also like to show them the last slide too.

i.e. what else might they do to support their students?

The session made me think – which was just great

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Passion and Reflection

I have spent the last few days having individual interviews with the Life Science module coordinators and their team members. The interviews involve reflecting on their involvement with the module and the assessment practices . The object of the exercise is to build up case studies of the current assessment practice ,to see what the particular assessment drivers are and to give people a chance to critically reflect on their current practice.

The appreciative enquiry approach that we are taking is really paying dividends - it is allowing the passion that these practitioners have for their subject to really shine through. It is interesting to watch people during the interviews start realise that they can say " wait - what if...........". Simple questions such as "tell me what you enjoy most about being involved with this module" are acting as a catalyst for open and honest reflection about the assessment practices.

This honest reflection along with being able to harness the passion of the staff are the key elements to the success of the project. They will be the drivers that will allow the re-engineering from within the module teams.

Friday, 24 April 2009


Having attended a HEA Physical Science subject centre event on Wednesday about e-portfolios, I have been thinking about the benefits and downsides to reporting/reflecting mechanisms such as these. Not being a 'diary' user, my reflection tends to occur whilst riding home from work on the bus or at the weekend. My action on this tends to be random e-mails sent to Mark, Peter Bullen (Director of the Blended Learning Unit) or Jon Alltree (Director of Learning & Teaching) with my ideas and thoughts about what we should do. I am sure they get a little fed up with my e-mails but this system seems to work for me as I am pretty much an activist so like to get things done, rather than pontificating for too long. Most presenters at the e-portfolio conference had experience of using Pebblepad but in most cases staff and students were engaging with the e-portfolio when it was part of an assessment or a requirement. Is this because for most of us, we have so much going on that we only use new mediums when it is a requirement or is it because there are so many ways of reflecting and recording that it is really for individuals to find the medium which suits them?

I hadn't 'blogged' before writing on the mud mover blog, but I have found it to be an enjoyable process and I now occasionally blog after teaching activities. I also opened a twitter account yesterday so have been enjoying 'tweeting' today, but whether this is enjoyable because it is a novelty or a useful means of recording and communicating my thoughts, is yet to be seen.

I did wonder about suggesting to Mark and Dominic about the thought of staff and students on the ESCAPE project keeping e-portfolios of their activities. This could be a great way to share and record the experiences, but with FLIP cameras, questionnaires, evaluation reports, attendance at events and numerous meetings I just wonder if the time burden on busy staff and students is too great?

At the e-portfolio event I was chatting with Lisa Gray, who mentioned that she had thought about asking project teams to keep e-portfolios. I can see the opportunities as Lisa and other members of the JISC and steering groups/cluster teams etc. could access the portfolios and keep up to date with activities. This could reduce the burden in formal report mechanisms, however, I'm not sure that the JISC are ready to change their reporting mechanisms and again, I am mindful to the fact that project teams will have found their own ways to update colleagues on progress (e.g. via Blogs, workshop events, social networking sites, postings on the CIRCLE site etc).

I haven't really come to any conclusions about the using e-portfolios and I probably won't until I start one myself. I plan to do this in September when our 'in house' VLE activates its e-portfolio system, but I am increasingly aware that people like to reflect and record in different ways. Whether people collate their 'tweets' or maintain e-portfolios, it is the process of reflection not the medium, that is important and we must encourage staff to reflect in their own way and act on their thoughts to enhance activities for students and staff.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Correspondence with Steve Draper

Following Steve Draper’s presentation at the HEA Assessment and Feedback day we have been passing emails back to one another. Steve is a great thinker and a really energising presenter. Go listen to him whenever you get the chance.

Two things came up in the correspondence.

1. The difference in the use of ppt between Steve and I. Steve amplified and told wonderfully engaging stories about the words he had on his slides. (I tend to shy away from .ppt slides that are littered with just text) and my talking over pictures. We also presented our ESCAPE activity and we wanted to help capture the attention of the delegates and thought a visual stimulus might help. We overlaid animations on graphs since we wanted delegates to really understand what we were talking about - I think the animations helped us do that (I hope) – it was just after lunch too – and I am aware I can be a tad soporific!

We discussed the usefulness of .ppt slides after such an event. With my approach it would be particularly difficult for anyone that wasn’t there to ‘get’ what I was showing. I am aware of this but also wondered how many people actually revisit the slides after such an event. Steve has a simple solution to this and brings a ready-made, single-sided hand out. The hand out comprises useful refs and links.

2. The second point we batted about, and of more relevance here, is the approach you take to engage staff in re-engineering activity. I am talking here about re-engineering curricula and in relation to ESCAPE re engineering and rethinking the assessment activities.

Although slightly extreme we discussed the merits of small steps of change versus big-bang change. It will be of little surprise that we both converged on the notion that both have something to offer.

With small steps of change …

It is more likely to keep staff engaged and on board i.e. in a way we are showing that we value what staff do but help to nudge things along (to be more educational effective and resource efficient) in a way that is both manageable and supportive.

For some staff a big-bang approach might wrench from under their feet everything they thought was good about their work. I wonder too if a step-wise approach is a great conversation starter and less threatening. Small-steps might prepare staff for some fun big-bang stuff and also develop their scholarship in a risk managed way.

The problem with small steps of change is that often you might never get to the heart of the problem. You tinker, fiddle on the edges, and whilst you might be adding incremental enhancements to a system / assessment (curriculum design approach), the approach /system / curricula you are tinkering with might actually need dropping!

Big-bang gives a great chance to ‘really’ explore the fundamental issue, establish a vision and help set out a curricular that responds to that vision.

We are doing both with ESCAPE and will look at how personalities as well as features of the modules/assessment arrangements best suit the alternatives.

Watch this space!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Curriculum Design Toolkit

Although I am the ESCAPE Project Director I only (officially) get to work on the project for 0.2 of my time The other 0.8 is dedicated to my role as the Deputy of the Blended Learning Unit (BLU). In the 0.8 capacity part of my remit is to lead a team of seconded staff in the area of Curriculum Design and Innovation (CDI)

Some of the CDI team are currently working on developing a Curriculum Design Toolkit. The toolkit has three components and is intend to help individuals, module teams and programme teams reflect on, and where appropriate re-engineer, their curricula. The primary components of the toolkit are

A Diagnostic tool – used to establish where the problems in the curricula might lay
A Features and Consequences map – used to show what the ‘features and consequences’ of the diagnosed curricula are likely to be.
A Suggestions for Improvement resource bank – used to provide staff with different forms of advice should they wish to tackle any diagnosed problems

Wednesday and Thursday of this week I drew the team together to review progress and accelerate the development. The team are only seconded the BLU on a fractional basis and so they too have many varied demands placed on them.

The two days was full of energy and enthusiasm for the development.
After I outlined the vision for the toolkit and fed back initial thoughts from users of a pilot Diagnostic tool day one was set aside for the team to show where they are at.

Marija Cubric outlined the Technology-to-Principles Matrix. Given that UH is wedded to the notion of Blended Learning there is a need for us to help staff make appropriate decisions about the use of the varied technologies available. For us it is never ‘the answer is a wiki, now what was the question?’

Following Marija’s presentation / discussion we spent the rest of the day exploring the progress of the various CD strands.

Currently the strands under development are ‘Curriculum Design Toolkits for…

* Core values (Here we use the Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education offered by Chickering and Gamson)

* Employability – this development is being led by Amanda (Mandi) Relph and Sarah Flynn

* Research Informed Teaching – this development is being led by Phil Porter

* Assessment for Learning – this development is being led by Maria Banks and Myself

Other strands to be developed include

* Internationalisation
* Entrepreneurship

The Diagnostic tool offers a set of research informed principles to the user. The Principles are different for each strand.

Each of the Principles are accessed separately by five questions. The Diagnostic tool rates the responses to the questions and shows, graphically, if there is good, or other, alignment with each of the Principles. We spent the whole of Wednesday looking at the Principles and the ‘accessing questions’.

Wednesday was really productive and we moved on our developments and thinking significantly. Wednesday also included a trip out to a local Indian Restaurant. It was great to continue the discussions as well spend some time socialising with colleagues.

Thursday was due to be a testing day. We were hoping (somewhat ambitiously) to get other members of the BLU / LTI to test the toolkits under different scenarios. Alas we were just too ambitious and so we stood the ‘testers’ down.

We continued with our work from Wednesday and also spent part of the day engaging with students. This was to incorporate their voice into the Features and Consequences Map. We thought getting the students involved would be a valuable contribution. I’m not sure any of us knew just how valuable that activity was going to be. We took input from Lauren Anderson and Elizabeth Terry (placement students in the BLU), Yoeri Goosens – BLU Student Consultant, Ruth Hyde – BLU research assistant recently engaged in the JISC funded STROLL project and Dawn Hamlet. Dawn is our link with the UH student Union. We have worked with this group before and they are always dedicated and committed. Thank you!

Each of the strand leaders met separately with the students to get the student view. It was really interesting to see how the strand leaders engaged the students differently. I suspect the different facilitation techniques kept the students alert too. That is they were not overwhelmed by the same technique.

Gaining the voice of the student was followed by a super-efficient and dialogic facilitation technique (Marija Cubric) to get us to vote on the likely ability of the various technologies to meet the needs of the various Principles.

We came a long way in those two days and although we are left with some on-going activity I doubt we would have so far if we had stayed in our offices and worked on the toolkits on an ad-hoc basis.

Oh, why am I writing this here? Mainly because of the Assessment-for-Learning strand that is being developed. It will be just great to get this and the Technology-to-Principles matrix fed into ESCAPE.

Watch this space…

Great job team!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

ESCAPE: The first outing: HEA Assessment and Feedback Event

The first outing of ESCAPE came at the HEA event on Assessment and Feedback. This event was created by the HEA to support the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programme. There were not too many other C-Delivery/ C-Design teams there.

I presented to a quiet room of just about 50 participants. It was after lunch and so maybe that’s why they were quiet! Hmm, maybe it was just me and my soporific presentation style!

I was given 10 minutes – I used it all. No time for q’s either :-( I did not spend any time outlining the case for assessment. It is already well made ! and was reinforced again by Brenda Smith in the morning session. I showed some of our approach in the hope that it might raise questions about what we are doing. I wanted to show a practitioner focus and evidenced based activity.

I showed our ‘mapping of the landscape’ and noted that this gave a great opportunity to ask the Schools if the map reflected what they wanted. i.e. did their conception of learning and their view of what their graduates attributes would be was supported by the landscape map?

I showed a modified landscape that I would have more allegiance with. i..e less reliance on final examinations and more opportunities on assessment for learning..

I spoke about capturing the secondary effects and showed that although we are only working with five modules by tracking staff and logging secondary and tertiary effects we are able to see how other modules have benefitted. We are really keen that a good assessment experience is the right of all of our students and not just those that happen to be taught by a member of staff that understands about assessment, alignment and the importance of feedback.

I then showed a technology-to-assessment-principles grid. This grid is intended to help staff make purposeful decisions about what technologies to use and how the different technologies’ relate to principles of good practice. The grid also shows how the technologies are being considered in terms of their likely
* Effectiveness
* Risk
* Cost

I.e. accepting that practitioners are likely to have different skill sets and resources. These skill sets and resources, as well as the ability of the technology to meet the Principles, are likely to be considered when selecting technologies.

Finally I presented the location of assessments on an efficiency versus efficiency matrix. I then tried to show how can make incremental change to separately improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the assessment.

I had fun animating all of this on the train!

No time for questions – let’s see if we get contacted after the event.

Putting assessment at the Heart of Learning : HEA Assessment and Feedback Event

Norah Jones and Alice Lau (Glamorgan)presented a really piece on their work about engaging faculties and putting assessment at the heart of learning

Some notes I scribbled down as I was listening …

Different approaches are possible Plan vs Experiment
Experimenting allows people to make mistakes. The mistakes give potential to improve. See mistakes as a positive potential.

Students’ viewed were considered really important too – it seems as though they have done some great work here. Not only do they do the more tradional stuff (focus groups and surveys etc) but they used Facebook too to elicit students views – Interesting the Facebook group was initiated by the SU – They seemed to have lots of engagement and collected data that did not come through form their other methods.

They spoke about them collecting and sharing good practice too. And this was collected from the Institution – which, for me, helps contextualise the setting. i.e. stops at source, this cant be done here retort.

They spoke too of the creation of assessment diaries – these show bunching of assessments etc. The team suggested this initiative, the study diaries, had improved their NSS results. I wondered if it might be some secondary effects too – i.e. the engagement with th students in creating the diaries and seeing th challenges that the students face – Trojan horse rearing its head again!

Norah mentioned that assessment is a process not just a method and that to help them on their way the Change Academy activity was really helpful for. There is lots of information captured on web site which we will look at.
They have a journal too – will look to see if there is an opportunity to get ESCAPE published through this journal.

Really great presentation and a great job at Glamorgan – thumbs up!

A few thoughts from Prof. Brenda Smith. HEA Assessment and Feedback Event

Brenda, as always, presents a really coherent argument and draws on a wealth of experience and expertise. Brenda’s position allows her to talk with numerous institutions which subsequently feed back into her knowledge. She uses these examples really well to allow her to provide some concrete examples of practice in the sector.

A few things I wrote down from her presentation …

* Engage students in the planning and curriculum planning – students can be great change agents.
* Assessments ‘can’ be set at week 3
* Get the Heads of Academic Schools at Teaching and Learning sessions – get T&L valued.
* Policies of professorship for T&L not valued or limited take up?
* A student friendly academic School gives a higher student feedback return
* The University of Lincoln, provides a booklet relating to students’ feedback. The booklet includes ‘this is what you asked for, this is what you said, and this is what we did. Helen and I are trying to get a You Said – We Did campaign up and running at UH. This resonated with us.
* Staff taking students to lunch and other simple schemes that attempt to engage students with staff. This again reminds me of Chickering and Gamson’s first principle ‘ Good practice im undergraduate education encourages staff student contact.
* Too much feedback might not be helpful
* Don’t just respond to students’ needs – Brenda gave the example of groups work and students not wanting it– Don’t forget to tell them why you are using it and what the purposes are. It’s not a secret!
* Stratchlyde – podcast lectures and use lecture time more productively – this frees up time for better feedback – This reminds me of what we do with the Blended Learning - use the technology o enhance and extend the traditional teaching sessions.
* Use of voice – audio supported feedback
* What do students do with feedback?
* Useful ways of presenting feedback – quickly!

Lots and lots more really useful ideas - I'm sure I've only touched the surface and dine an injustice to Brenda's session.

Hurrah for Herts. HEA Assessment and Feedback Event

The HEA event on Assessment and Feedback (1 April 2009) provided a great opportunity to hear from some A&F experts I was flattered too to get an invite to present the work of the ESCAPE project. Thanks for the invite Eddie Gulc :-) The invite provided an opportunity to raise the profile of the ESCAPE project as well as raise the profile of UH. It was just great too to hear other speakers also refer to the good work of UH. Andy Gillett and Angela Hammond’s map of the assessment profile was raised by Prof. Brenda Smith and so too was our CABLE activity.

Thanks for the helping us fly-the-UH-flag..

Always Learning - HEA Assessment and Feedback Event

Helen and I have this notion of Always Learning. It’s said with a slight tease but it reinforces the idea that everywhere you look you are presented with opportunities to learn new things.

Much of the traditional forms of learning are undertaken in lecture rooms, seminar spaces and laboratories, etc. but the informal settings provide fruitful settings for learning too. On our taxi Journey to the Higher Education Academy for an Assessment and Feedback one day Event (one of the three events organised by the Academy to support the JISC Curriculum Delivery / Curriculum Design programme, we were taxied by Gordon.

After a few passing pleasantries about weather etc., Gordon rattled off fact-after-fact about York Minster. Gordon had said that he was not interested in History in School but was just passionate about the space. Gordon was not an undergraduate, Gordon was not a postgraduate student neither he was just a guy that reminded me that learning is a lifelong endeavour and learning opportunities occur everywhere.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Final Version of Project Plan to JISC

We have just submitted our " final version" as opposed to "draft version" of our project plan. the plan was revised in the light of comments received from our colleagues at JISC and from the steering group. The Plan is now quite a hefty document - including the work packages it runs to 48 pages. We have revised some of our time lines. In particular we have allowed much longer for the design and development of the assessments for learning phase. The modules we are working with are a mix of one and two semesters long. The single semester modules will run between October 2009 and February 2010 - which means in March we will have an idea of how well our redesign has worked.

This week we are starting to apply our appreciative inquiry methods to the school of Life Sciences. We are conducting interviews with members of the module teams. This will allow us to get to know each other and start the inquire phase of the Appreciative Inquiry method. We will be asking them about good learning experiences they have encountered. We will be exploring what was it that made it a good experience. with questions such as:
  • what happened?
  • who was involved?
  • what was your part in the experience?
  • what was it that made it possible?

Using these reflections we will to start to evaluate the assessment practices of the modules. We will be looking to establish a way of evaluating the assessment against efficiency and effectiveness.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

ESCAPE coverage in the Universe

Hi there, my name is Elizabeth Terry and I am a Business Studies student currently on placement with the Blended Learning Unit/ Learning and Teaching Institute (BLU/LTI). Working in such a committed learning environment, I have come to realise just how much the BLU/LTI value the students' opinion. Before working here, I had no idea how much thought went into enhancing the student experience, particularly within the classroom. Because of this, I have decided to do all that I can to make the students fully aware of what activities we do and the benefits that they bring to not only the university, but also their studies.

Liaising closely with Dawn Hamlet (Vice President Academic Support and Campaigns), I have successfully been able to get numerous stories on various projects that the BLU/LTI are running into the Universe (the student’s paper that has on average 4,000 readers). This week, the Universe features a story on the ESCAPE project. The article highlights concerns that are attached to assessment and invites the students to give their opinion and views on assessment and feedback.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Meeting Life Sciences Module Teams - Scene Setting

So, after much behind the scenes activity we recently met with the module teams from the School of Life Sciences. We are engaging in Appreciative Inquiry (as an Evaluation Framework) and before we enter the Inquire Phase (with them) we wanted to set the scene and help get them on board with our work. They, like other Schools, are very busy and I have no desire to draw on their time unnecessarily. We set aside 2.5 hours for a meeting where we could outline the project and get them interacting. The time flew by - for me anyway. Dominic did a great job introducing the project - I simply made up numbers and responded to some of their concerns.

Naturally (given it was a 2.5 hour session), we built in stuff for them to do and feedback - I thought (and I did say that I hoped I had not misread the mood of the room) that they were very positive.

Helen Barefoot came along too since this is her School and she spans across the Learning and Teaching Institute and also the School. Helen was a great advocate and could help relate our ideas to their context.

We asked for their immediate thoughts - which are now being collated and will be fed back here.

At the end of the session we also gave them Flip Cameras and asked them to introduce themselves and talk very briefly about a positive assessment experience. The room was lively and vibrant and although it was late and at the end of the 2.5 hours we got some great clips. This will now start to set a very positive picture when we start the Inquire Phase.

Thanks LIfe Sciences - Great start!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

All roads lead to ESCAPE

Peter Bullen and I have been invited to act as guest editors for a special edition of Engineering Education. Engineering Education is the Journal of the Higher Education Engineering Subject Centre. We were approached (I suspect) since we are engineers, are passionate about engineering Education and because we are Director and Deputy Director of the Blended Learning Unit (respectively).

The focus of the special edition is technology supported engineering
education. See the fit?

We were overwhelmed with the response, it far exceeded our expectations and I suspect it exceeded the expectations of the Subject Centre :-) Naturally we then had the pleasure of reading the proposals. This 'pleasure' IS genuine since I'm always interested to hear and read about colleagues activity. Although we are guest-editing the regular editorial team are still in place to support us. I had a lengthy telephone conversation today regarding the proposals and how we move forward from here.

Some things that came from the conversation included ...

* What to do with a great proposal that exceeded the word limit?
* How it was comforting when the 5 independent reviewers agreed on the outcome of many of the proposals
* How it was frustrating when we didn't.
* How we can be encouraging yet maintain the standards of the Journal

Sure, much of this relates to the Journal but it really struck a chord with me since we were essentially assessing the proposals for suitability for inclusion in the journal. And many of the issues really relate to assessment per se.

* Congruence of mark / feedback - i.e. reliability of assessment
* Engagement with the rules
* Sharing and maintaining standards

Seems like wherever I look nowadays I see assessment and activity related to ESCAPE.

Steering Group - More thoughts

Colleagues at our inaugural Steering Group meeting offered support, encouragement and (quite rightly) probing - I thought I would post some of the observations and thoughts here too.

A few 'things' that resonated with me from the discussions -

1 the NSEE vs. NSS
2 taking my (our) own agenda to the Schools
3 Making due consideration to all items of the plan
4 Ambition – making sure that we are not being overly ambitious.
5 Drawing on projects that have already engaged in similar-ish activity

1. I have flirted with the NSSE / or seen pointers to it (the NSSE) on my USA conference travels and it something that I would like to explore further. Clearly we will have to balance the institutional requirements of 'success' in the NSS and so this will need to stay on our radar too. I would like us to focus on learning and seeing how that aligns with the NSS.
i.e. not wanting to be NSS driven.

2. David Nicol asked what agenda we will be taking to the Schools - i.e. in addition to working with the agendas of the Schools. Great question! I have thought long-and-hard about this after the meeting - I am aware of David' self regulation agenda for instance. Most of my work has been about trying to develop a personalised experience for the students. That is not to trample over the benefits of collaboration, community centeredness or seeing that socialisation is important but I am keen to see students as individuals in the current mass HE system. In some sense this is in part response to one of the 14 grand challenges raised by the National Academy of Engineering. I think Personlised Learning / seing students as individuals will resonate with us here since we can quite rightly draw on David's work, promote the benefits of community centeredness but also remind ourselves that we are dealing with individuals. We are a large University and losing contact with our students (as individuals) will be of concern to many of us here.

3. Our project plan was details in some areas but less so in others - we need to balance our endeavors and show commitment to all aspects of the project and its stages. Lisa Gray raised similar observations when she asked for more specificity.

4. We write in our project plan about transformative and sustained change. I don't wish to retreat from these aims but the Steering encouraged a close look at the size of the 'ambition'.

5. I am aware of the FAST and SENLEF projects and also the Engaging Students with Assessment Feedback project. Actually now I come to write about those and other A&F related projects (SPRINTA etc) that Chris Rust and I were involved with at the University of Essex, its kind of bonkers that there are still so many issues with some of the basics of assessment and feedback practice.
I will make sure that we revisit those projects and use what the others have already found. I will also draw on the experiences and expertise of Malcolm Ryan and the Learner Experience projects. Learner Experience is also part of this project

Hmm. Lots to do - but it was just great to get the input from colleagues. I have every confidence that our project will benefit from the experience and expertise of our Steering Group - Great input - thank you!


Monday, 9 March 2009

Scottish Journey

Mark and I travelled up to Glasgow last week to meet with Rachel Harris from Inspire Research. We were looking at how using appreciative enquiry techniques could help us in our work with the module teams in the schools. AI looks at growing what works in a organisation to foster change rather than to think of things in terms of something needing fixing.

The day was very productive and we were able to flesh out exactly how we we going to approach things on a module level. In addition we have started to put a detailed timeline together for work we are doing with the schools. We had a chance to knock around quite a few ideas and we were able to develop some ways of looking at things that should really help the sustainability of the project's influence after the project itself finishes. In particular we looked at how many modules you would need to influence in order to bring about an institutional change . Mark compared it to how many people were needed to start a mexican wave in a stadium. Was there a critical mass of modules that you needed? and if so what were the factors that influenced that number. We also looked at things from person centred approach and looked at how we could measure a persons influence within a school as an agent for change. We wanted to encapsulate how many modules a particular person could influence and see if we could express that as a kind of index or quotient. It was good to have Rachel's input and experience to keep us both grounded on what was possible within our time frame.

At the end of last week we also got the feedback on the project plan from JISC - so this week will be concerned with updating the plan in the light of these and the steering groups comments. In addition we will be and arranging meetings with the module teams within the schools to get them to examine their current practice within an AI framework.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Yesterday Mark and I ran a workshop on 'assessment and feedback' open to any member of staff at the university. We had 24 participants who contributed to some lively debate and discussion regarding the challenges of setting effective assignments and providing useful feedback. As you will be aware from previous blog entries, we are very keen at modelling behaviour, so we set the participants some pre-workshop activity, and then an activity within the session. We asked participants to bring along a case study of an assessment task that they felt needed improving. We discussed principles of good assessment and feedback practice, considered student and staff opinions regarding assessment and feedback and then asked the participants to consider where their assessment case study was currently located on the above grid of effectiveness vs efficiency. With support from colleagues, they then discussed how they could move their assessment up/along the grid to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the assessment. In some cases this meant improving marking turn around times to provide prompt feedback by considering for example, sharing out the marking, online submission and group work. Other cases considered improving the effectiveness of the assessment by considering activities such as peer and self assessment and involving students in a dialogue around assessment policy (i.e. enabling some choice within the assessment task, discussion of assessment criteria and the activities involved in the marking process ). For post workshop activity, we have asked the participants to identify changes that they will make as individuals to their assessments, changes that they will make within module teams, plus changes that they hope to influence at School level. We will follow up their activities and hopefully gain more examples and suggestions that will benefit the ESCAPE project. It was great to see staff engaged in this agenda and there were 24 enthusiastic people in the room. My hope is that these individuals plus the academic staff involved in ESCAPE will make small steps of change that will influence their colleagues and we will see an improvement in assessment and feedback practice across the whole institution - there's nothing wrong with being optimistic right?

Model Relationship

This week I have been concerned with trying to model the relationships between the modules that we are looking at in the School of Life Sciences and the other modules within the school. We are looking at the module profiles, the assessment mix and the key individuals that are involved with the modules to see what links and patterns emerge. We are looking at ways of using our results to model and predict how the project's influences will spread thought the school. It is helping us to identify the key "secondary targets" that will be able to be influenced by the second phase of the project. We have been helped this week by Ruth Hyde - welcome aboard Ruth. Ruth has been doing some work on building the model and looking at the variants that are emerging.

In addition I have had a meeting with the Business School to see how we can get the data that we need to be able to carryout our baseline audit of achievement for our "before" part of the "before and after" comparison of results. Lots of enthusiasm for the project in the Business School which is manifesting itself in a plethora of offers of support and encouragement. They are very excited by the project and can see how it will address some of the assessment and acheivement issues that they have with certain programmes.

It’s off to Glasgow Thursday and Friday for the team - we are having some training in appreciative enquiry provided for us by inspire research. We want to see how we can use the techniques of appreciative enquiry to manage the change we want to encourage in the assessment practices in the schools we are working with.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Innovations week at the University of Bath

I have been invited to a few universities to present at their one or two day annual T&l conferences - and I am always impressed at the enthusiasm for the event and also the effort required to plan and manage such an event. The University of Bath seem a little discontent with one / two days events. They are now in the middle of an Innovations Week – wow. A really ambitious plan to put on a week of activities related to teaching and learning – or more specifically Feedback to Students and Engagement with Students . One of the days was dedicated to showcasing / brokering relations with the HEA Subject Centres and the CETL’s. We were invited as the Blended Learning Unit (BLU) – my day job is the BLU Deputy Director.

I have a few contacts in Bath and so took the opportunity to take BLU to the event and also catch up with some of my Bath contacts.

I had mixed views about how many people might turn up and how many Subject Centres and CETL’s the University would get. The event far exceeded my expectations.

I addition to showing some BLU activity I took the opportunity to plan a workshop - Clearly I remained in eye contact with the BLU space / poster. Hence managed to support Bath and also get some work done.

Really great job Bath and the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Office for coordinating the week - I took the idea of a week long event back to Hertfordshire and it will be just great if we could mimic some of the energy created at Bath.

Full Programme

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

First Meeting of the Steering Group

Last Thursday we had our first meeting of the steering group, we had an excellent turnout. It was good to see Malcolm Ryan again - our critical friend from JISC and fellow VW owner and to meet Prof. Margaret Price - from Oxford Brookes University. In addition Prof. David Nicol from the University of Strathclyde joined us via elluminate along with Prof. Peter Bullen head of BLU at UH.

We used a very large plasma screen to display the elluminate interface and Mark managed to solve some technical hitches prior to the start of the meeting so the sound was excellent.

The steering group were very supportive of what we had achieved so far and were in agreement with our approach as detailed in the draft project plan - which was approved. They were able to offer advice on areas where they felt their experience was relevant. It is good to know that we are backed up in our endeavours by such a depth and breadth of experience. The steering group’s guidance and advice will be invaluable to helping make the project a success.

Some things that I got from the meeting:

  • look at the student perspective of assessment & compare with the lecturer view
  • think about how teaching & learning staff development for new (and existing) staff can support the sustainability of the project
  • create hard data for analysis
  • what are the staff and student drivers here
  • students will always want more feedback - we need to encourage and facilitate self regulated learners
  • look at the national survey of student engagement
  • think about the context of the change we are trying to achieve - make sure that senior champions are on side
  • the challenge of using general principles of good assessment practice - of which there are a number of schools of thought - and turning them into actual an assessment regime for a particular subject module.

One of the main themes that I picked up on is how much work is being done in similar areas to our own and how we need to be aware of it. One of the discussions that Mark and I have had is his feeling that we need to have a good idea of what is out there - perhaps by carrying out a survey exercise.

              Thursday, 12 February 2009

              From alpha to omega

              We had a very valuable meeting with Lisa Gray and her colleagues from JISC. It was a chance for the JISC team to find out what we had been doing over the last month or so and for us to get some feedback on our draft project plan. They also had a chance to meet our stakeholders in the Business School and Life Sciences. The first part of the meeting was with Mark and myself and concentrated on the work we had done to date and looking at some of the issues that the plan had raised.

              The round table that followed teased out some really interesting issues within the schools about the need for this kind of project and the kinds of solutions that were being developed - both bu early adopters and having to us technology as the only way to cope with a situation - for example the impracticalities of 650 students all handing in hard copies of coursework at 3.00 on a Friday afternoon. There was a rich conversation on how schools at UH are using of the electronic voting systems and the hidden benefits that emerge once you start to use this kind of technology. Studynet was also discussed in detail and some of us spoke with passion about what we and our have been able to achieve with it.

              There was a valuable discussion on the level of detail needed in the work packages - which we took on board. The work packages will need to be more comprehensive when detailing our baseline audit of what is happening in the schools at present - a fair comment. This detail will come in the next couple of weeks as we start to work much more closely with the module teams to dissect the modules and the staff and student experience.

              We also discussed the resources and support that will be made available to us over the course of the project. The meeting was held in the Learning Resources Centre where the JISC team were able to see a cross section of the way our students work from informal small study groups that form due to almost chance meetings to more formal student led sessions in dedicated seminars rooms. As I looked around it was clear that technology in the form of laptops, wireless Internet and the web 2.0 technologies was very central to the students learning - the place was a hive of student activity.

              All in all a very useful morning, it is good to know that we are heading in the right direction and that we have the support and resources to deliver the next part of the project. I am pleased the way things have gone so far and liken the project to picture of my daughter trapezing - its a delicate balancing act that we are attempting and it will not be easy to get the embedding that we are after - but it is possible and when you get it right it is exhilarating!

              Wednesday, 11 February 2009

              Sustaining ESCAPE - Learning from other projects

              At the heart of the ESCAPE project is the need to sustain and embed our practice. We are after all about developing sustainable change. Using the standard JISC template for our Project and Evaluation Plans we were required to present some thoughts on Sustainability and Exit. I really like the idea of asking the project to think about these issues at the outset and not at its end. Thumbs up from me!

              The University of Bradford are running another JISC funded project - Audio Supported Enhanced Learning (ASEL) - to which we (UH) are partners. The project is nearing completion and today (11 Feb 2009) they ran a UH / Bradford meeting to review how the institutions would sustain the ASEL activity and continue to reap the benefits suggested of audio supported learning.

              I am really keen to see legacy activity from these type of projects and not just see all the good work fizzle out and dwindle just because the project and funding has formally closed. I was invited as part of the UH team to attend the day to which I seized the opportunity. I want our project, ESCAPE, to learn from ASEL activities and see how we might sustain ourselves long after we have finished. In particular I am interested in what things we might do now to help our project sustain itself and what questions might we ask at the start of the project that would help us at the project close.

              Whilst I was happy to support ASEL, want to see UH benefit from a real legacy of the ASEL project, I also wanted, (more selfishly), to see what lessons I could take away from the meeting to benefit ESCAPE.

              We had an interesting start to the day where as a group we explored how the project had met its objectives. I think this will be a useful exercise for ESCAPE too i.e. to keep reminding ourselves what we set out to achieve and constantly relate our activity to that.

              Bob Rotheram
              from the Leeds Metropolitan University followed that session with a great presentation about the JISC funded Sounds Good Project - Sounds Good is about giving better feedback and using audio to support the feedback activity.

              After Bob outlined his project and the benefits, I was keen to find out how we going to sustain the Sounds Good activity (i.e. in line with the purpose of the meeting and for my selfish needs!)

              Bob spoke about the importance of enthusiasm and then I asked, in addition to enthusiasm what three things do you think are important to sustain Sounds Good.?

              Bob spoke about the time savings it could bring staff and qualified this with some great examples.
              It is quicker (audio feedback) than written feedback if …
              • You give a lot of feedback
              • You speak faster than you can write

              Be a really useful exercise to quantify this and show staff some break information
              Bob also said that technology needs to be simple and useable and not be a barrier to uptake. Some great thoughts.

              Naturally Bob also\mentioned the positive benefits to students in terms of receiving audio feedback. I really liked the pragmatism about being both student and staff focused. Staff are very busy and they need convincing of a need to change practice and see the benefits for them and their students

              Peter Chatterton asked a follow-up question …

              If you had a pot of gold what would you use it for to sustain Sounds Good ?
              Fortunately Bob said not much was needed, sounded like a ripple effect was kickimg in, but he did say …
              • Give staff decent devices
              • Run workshops
              • Give a chance for staff to come together to share and discuss activity

              It struck me also that just as e-learning was a Trojan Horse to pedagogy so too was the use of Audio. The morning session gave a few examples which suggested, for me, it was not developing pedagogy but giving what we already know about learning to be surfaced.

              In the afternoon we broke into our Uni teams and discussed how we might sustain ASEL. Asking ourselves …
              why bother?
              How do we convince an academic not connected with the project to engage?

              We collected many ideas - which will `be posted here when they are summarised, but some things for now …

              Provide some training packages
              Utilising existing support - not develop new systems
              Resources might include how do you do it
              What do you need to avoid
              i.e. a collection of resources related to ‘how to’
              as well as a collection of resources relating to ‘why to’

              We also mentioned strengthening the student mentor scheme run at UH - and if new / different skills are needed for audio activity then we need to describe what these are and up-skill the mentors accordingly

              * Linking it to podcasting campaign
              * Tagging resources so that we don’t reinvent stuff
              * Networking
              * Sustaining communities
              * Inter-faculty meetings/
              * Cross University inter-faculty meetings
              * Link with the Podcasting for Pedagogic Purposes group?
              * Not invent what is already out there

              A couple of things ASEL might do now
              • Develop crisp selling messages
              • Use the right language for different groups
              • Tap the why do it into responding to challenges
              • Sell to Heads of School
              • Share an Executive summary

              I was interested in asking the team to map out the audio landscape post ASEL and then establish what is needed to support a vision

              i.e. where we will be in
              1 week
              4 weeks
              2 months
              6 months
              1 year

              I would like to do this for ESCAPE - map out what we want UH to look like after ESCAPE and establish what we need to make that vision-landscape a reality.

              Per ardua ad alta

              We are welcoming Lisa Gray of the JISC e-Learning Programme team, Marianne Sheppard from the Support and Synthesis team, and Sheila MacNeill, a representative from JISC CETIS to the university tomorrow . They are coming to meet the ESCAPE team and to have a round table meeting with us and our key stakeholders in the schools. It prom ices be a really useful day - we are keen to show JISC what we have achieved to date and to get feedback on our draft project plan. It will also be a chance to talk about the arrangements for the management of the project - both strategic with the steering group and advisory group and from an operational perspective. We will also be talking about the communication strategy and reporting mechanisms along with the Project evaluation plan and baseline data gathering exercises that we are nearly ready to start. I will be interested to see what support the meeting feels the project needs.
              We are on the launch pad, we have done the preparation with our partner schools and we are ready (almost) to light the blue touch paper and launch the baseline assessment of the current assessment practice.