Thursday, 27 May 2010

On Tuesday 25th May I was at Oxford Brookes University as part of a review event for the Programme Assessment Strategies (PASS) Project. Also at the event was Graham Gibbs. Graham spoke about his experiences of effecting change within programmes and institutions. His views mirrored our experiences on the ESCAPE project, namely that there is a "hidden" network of influence that you must be able to tap into, if you want to effect change within a school . A component of the "hidden" network are the informal meetings that take place in schools. For example; in the corridor, in social areas, over coffee and at lunchtimes. These informal venues are often where the hierarchy is relaxed and a more open discourse is possible. The discussions are often robust and play key part in forming opinions within schools.

Graham's views certainly mirrored our experiences.It was something that we had anticipated when considering our approach to working with our stakeholders. One of the early parts of the ESCAPE project involved mapping the influences of individuals and teams within schools. We looked at who were the key opinion formers within the schools and how we could get them "on side". Additionally we looked what were the formal and as important, informal channels of communication within schools.

We also looked at how we could encourage collateral effects - how the stakeholders we were working with could influence others. Both over the course of the project and beyond as part of our sustainability planning.

As part of the event I was invited by Peter Hartley - who chaired, to present an outline the ESCAPE project. It was extremely valuable to get the benefit of the teams experience experience in the discussion that followed.
Although the tenure of the meeting was one of looking a programme level interventions rather than at modular level ( - which is the ESCAPE perspective), there are common assessment themes that transcend both projects which started to emerge - such as ownership of the assessment and managing change within teams.

I was able to suggest some alternative approaches for the PASS project that involved taking a cross module approach to assessment that is designed to break down the barriers between modules as a "halfway house" to full programme level assessments. I spoke about the experiences of two of the programmes at the University of Hertfordshire ,that have worked towards implementing a more integrated approach to assessment that attempts to transcend the module based assessment model.

As part of the meeting Graham Gibbs discussed his guide "using assessment to support student learning" which is available at:

Graham provided me with a copy of the guide during the meeting. It is an extremely useful resource for teams embarking on using assessment as a vehicle for learning. The ideas set out by Graham are illustrated and supported by case studies, which makes it very accessible and relevant to the reader.

On my train journey home I was able to reflect on what had been really useful and informative day!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Collateral Effects

We have been approached by some of the teams working in the sports therapy area to see if we can work with them to look at their approach to assessment and learning on two of their modules. They had come along to one of the university wide presentations that we gave on the ESCAPE project .

We are exploring with these modules how the the use of student produced videos of therapeutic techniques can be used to support the students with their practical classes. One of the themes that a is emerging is motivating students to practice the techniques on a regular basis so that they can master them.

After speaking with one of the module coordinators this morning it striking how similar many of the assessment issues resonate with those that we are already working on. It is clear that the foundation that we have laid with the original module teams is providing a jump off point in applying the assessment approaches that have been adopted to these "secondary effect" modules . We had of course expected the to be secondary and collateral effects - viz: others we would work with or would influence, but what is surprising is how portable some of the techniques and approaches that our module teams have developed piloted may turn out to be.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Use of a Visualiser in Mathematics Support

One of the technologies that we are looking at to support students is the use of short videos. We are working with staff and students using flipcams to demonstrate laboratory and mathematical techniques.

IN the case of the mathematical techniques, we are using a visualiser to project the image onto a white board and focusing on the projection of the paper that the calculation is laid out on.

The calculation fills the screen and the lecturer explains the mathematical technique, carrying it out step by step. The lecturer's narration and explanation indicate the difficult parts of the calculation and guides the student through the technique. The videos will be made available on Studynet and students opinion on their usefulness in supporting the mathematics workshops will be sought. Their particular use will be demonstrating applied mathematical laboratory techniques when students which students traditionally have problems with.

Is a good example of how simple technology can support the appropriate pedagogy in delivering student centered learning. Furthermore we are able to gain the student view as to their usefulness through the discussion feature on Studynet.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

WATS in BioSciences

One of the modules that the ESCAPE Project has been working with has been the Introduction to Biochemistry, Microbiology and Pharmacology module. This is a level one introductory module for 200 life science students that is taken by students on a number of pathways. Students have traditionally struggled on this module in applying mathematical techniques. particular areas that are flagged up through diagnostic testing are: calculation of dilutions, use of logs and ratios and percentages . These areas all present students with problems( see slide at top of blog entry). In order to address this skills gap the mathematical techniques required for the module were taught using a series of five maths workshops in semester A.

This year Ella Bryson and Jackie Willis have integrated WATS - the Weekly Assessed Tutorial Sheets into their teaching. The WATS system developed by Mark Russell is an automated assessment system that allows teachers to set questions ,which are the same for each student - however the data within the question is different - so that no two sets of answers are the same. The students log on to WATS download a set of questions, do the calculations and submit their answers electronically. The Answers are marked automatically and students are emailed their results.
Ella and Jackie harvested typical questions from the colleagues who deliver the teaching and the practical work on the module, and Incorporated these into a set of 15 WATS problem sets. The WATS system was used to build upon the material covered in a series of workshops.
Students were tasked with answering a set of questions each week for 15 weeks.

Students were given an anonymity number (a three letter code) after each set of questions were submitted,a league table of results produced so that students could see their (anonymous) ranking. After submission students were emailed the answers with feedback messages to support their learning. Additionally the WATS was integrated into the personal tutorial system.

Ella Bryson has commented that "WATS has allowed us to teach maths to students in a way that actively encourages them, it promotes independent thinking by making it impossible to copy answers from others. It gives immediate feedback on how each student did, where they went wrong and how they compare with the rest of the class , stimulating competition."

Jackie Willis felt that " BioScience students don't always appreciate that maths is a fundamental part of their course." and " Students are so used to compartmentalising information once the ( Maths) workshops are completed to apply what they have learnt in their practicals. WATS engaged the students on a regular basis and we were able to contextualise the maths so that it complemented and supported what was happening in their practical programme"

Thanks to Ella and Jackie's hard work they have really been able to support their students using this innovative and effective approach. Ella and Jackie are now exploring ways to roll this out to support second year students.