Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Meeting with Management Team of the Business School

The ESCAPE project will work with the Business School and also the School of Life Sciences. Naturally we are presently on many paper trails looking at current practice. This will inform our project and evaluation plans. To support and enhance our ‘paper-trailing’ Dominic and I sat with Mike Broadbent Head of Department: Accounting, Finance and Economics (Chair of Faculty Learning and Teaching Group) and Karen Robins (Associate Head of Department (Management Systems)), from the Business School yesterday. We had a really productive meeting. They seem to have as much energy and enthusiasm for the ESCAPE project as we have. We discussed some of their general Teaching, Learning and Assessment challenges as well as the ESCAPE project.

Predominantly their challenges lie in the area of large groups and direct entry students. Large classes present many different challenges which we need to unpack and provide appropriate responses to. I am aware of the excellent work done by David Kraithman (and others) where they spent some time and effort providing really useful and accessible electronic resources to the students. The motivation being to move the lectures from being didactic information giving affairs to being more seminar based interactions. It will be of little surprise that class performance improved. Great job David! Not only does this show how technology can help the teaching and learning nexus but also how the out of class engagement can, and indeed should, inform the in class engagement.

I was also musing also at some of the practicalities of assessing large classes too. My largest class probably peaked at around 200. For some modules in the Business School student numbers are higher. I heard that a self service coursework hand in-box was withdrawn from use due to the potential Health and safety issues as queues of students formed to submit their work just before the submission deadline. I then got thinking about a class size of say 360 students and considered the case where each student submits their work in a plastic wallet - a reasonably common phenomenon Assuming it takes around 5 seconds to pick up and take out the work from the wallet and then another 5 seconds to put it back after marking (i.e.10 seconds per student), this trivial activity alone adds another hour to the assessment burden. Okay, this might not seem like much but as class sizes grow so too does the time and distraction for engaging in trivial non learning oriented activity.

Clearly there is much potential in electronic submission, which UH has, but making those systems useable and also configurable to suit the various usage patterns is no trivial activity.

We spoke of the Business School’s desire to meet the University’s target to reduce its time to return coursework and conversations moved to marinating the standard of assessment. Again, I have views here, which essential centre on the notion of ‘what’s the use of an integrated, challenging, well thought through piece of coursework if the attendant marking demand suggests its takes 6 weeks to return the feedback?’. Cleary I am not suggesting moving away from establishing authentic and challenging assessment tasks but there might be some work here in looking at the assessment experience in its entirety.

A really good meeting and one which established a positive tone for engagement but quite rightly set down some challenges from the chalk (pc) face for us to consider.

1 comment:

Helen Barefoot said...

I am a strong advocate of online submission. As well as reducing queueing times for students and as Mark rightly mentioned, burdens in marking work submitted in plastic wallets etc. the reduction in administrative time is really beneficial and it means as a lecturer, I can start marking assignments as soon as they come in. I do not have to wait for the paper copy to be logged, sorted and passed on to me. It also saves me time, as I don't have to physically pass the copy onto the second marker/moderator and back to the administrator. I think we save atleast 3 days by having work submitted online, plus it reduces the risk of paper copies getting lost and limits the need for storage space. I appreciate that some colleagues do not like reading work on the screen, but I know colleagues who print out the work to read it, but annotate the online version. I use my Tablet PC to mark which enables me to handwrite comments on the screen in exactly the same way i would do if i was annotating a paper script, however, those without a Tablet PC can easily use 'track changes' to annotate scripts. The other benefit to online marking, is that the students are more likley to read the feedback, and hopefully use the feedback. Student marks are released through the virtual learning environment (VLE)and the mark is shown at the bottom of the page below the feedback comments. If you haven't yet tried it, give online marking a go.