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.