Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Video of our ESCAPE themes

I am in the process of capturing our thinking and work in the form of short Camtasia videos. What follows is a video on our ESCAPE themes.

Thoughts on the format and themes are, as always, most welcome


Good assessment - the right of all our students

On my travels I have come across Kate Wicklow (Feedback Officer) of the NUS. I'm always been impressed at Kate's energy and enthusiasm for the work she does. I can see the passion for the work she does. anyway, Kate, via Sarah Knight, invited me to write a piece for the NUS journal HE Focus. Naturally I responded positively.

The 'draft' piece follows. Lets see what happens and see if it get included

Good assessment - the right of all students!

The ESCAPE project
Good assessment is the right of all our students - fact! Good assessment should not be the experience of a lucky few taught by academics that understand the significant influence of assessment. An influence that, inter alia, shapes students’ study behaviours, stimulates an appropriate ‘approach’ to learning, and arouses the students’ inquisitiveness in learning and their subject discipline. Such aspirations, although not impossible, are becoming every more difficult given the increase in student numbers and associated reduction in resource.
Our JISC funded project, Effecting Sustainable Change in Assessment Practice and Experience (ESCAPE) seeks to bring about enhancements to assessment in a resource efficient way. Working with two Academic Schools at the University of Hertfordshire, (The Business School and The School of Life Sciences), we set out to explore current assessment practice, surface conceptions of good assessment and subsequently support our partners as they review and develop their assessment practice.

What is good?
Review the assessment literature and you will unearth numerous sets of principles of good assessment and feedback practice. See for instance (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004; McDowell et al., 2006; Nicol, 2007; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Weston-Manor-Group, 2007), and of course the principles espoused by the National Union of Students (separately on assessment and feedback). To help us engage with busy academics, and being mindful of the so-called magic number seven, we have drawn together the existing principles and produced a set of six overarching ESCAPE themes. These are:
Good assessment for learning…
• Engages students with the assessment criteria
• Supports personalised learning
• Ensures feedback leads to improvement
• Focuses on student development
• Stimulates dialogue
• Considers student and staff effort

Although we recognise the importance of assessment as an instrument to measure learning our primary interest is using assessment to encourage and stimulate, and not measure, learning.

Working with our ESCAPE partner schools we are using the themes to establish a better assessment and hence educational experience for their students. Using the themes along with a purposely positive exploration of current practice we are working with staff to develop assessment that is both educative and resource efficient. By working at the conceptual level of good assessment, rather than offering quick fixes, we are providing a framework for our partners to take their developing assessment expertise to other modules. Indeed we are already seeing assessment developments being translated on other non-ESCAPE modules.

An example in practice

One of our ESCAPE modules previously required students to provide an individual laboratory report. The laboratory is traditionally a formal document describing the aims of the study, apparatus, method, results and discussion. The nature of the setting however, around 90 students and an individual report, meant that students were not provided with feedback immediately after their submission and the students’ thinking and developing conceptions could not readily be seen by their lecturer. The lecturer could only see the students’ conceptions when the final submission was made.

Following the module teams engagement with the ESCAPE project, the students now work in groups and co-construct their laboratory report on a wiki. Importantly, the wiki ensures that individual contributions are seen and the evolving laboratory report is visible to the lecturer. As such the lecturer now engages with the students’ work at regular intervals and provides on-going feedback on the students work, thinking and analysis. As such this feedback can now be used by the students to shape their thinking and their work.

At the end of the group process, and to alleviate concerns over working in a group that has different levels of student contributions, the students also provide a mark along with an justification statement (for the mark) for each of their group members. These student marks help individualise the mark provided by the lecturer.
The lecturer, new to wiki’s at the start of the process, believes his students now have a better educational experience and he has saved time; win-win at its best.

Numerous examples of effective and resources efficient practice are available and naturally we want to spread our ways of working more widely across the University. Good assessment is, after all, the right of all our students!

For more information about the ESCAPE project take a look at http://escape-uh-jisc.blogspot.com/

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students' learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education,, 1, 8.
McDowell, L., Sambell, K., Bazin, V., Penlington, R. W., D, Wickes, H., & Smailes, J. (2006). Assessment for learning: Current practice exemplars from the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Assessment for Learning o. Document Number)
Nicol, D. (2007). Principles of good assessment and feedback: Theory and practice. Paper presented at the Assessment design for learner responsibility, Reap On-Line.
Nicol, D., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.
Weston-Manor-Group. (2007). Assessment Standards : A manifesto for change. Retrieved 20 October 2008, from http://www.business.brookes.ac.uk/learningandteaching/aske/Manifesto%20final.pdf

Monday, 28 June 2010

ESCAPE themes - so far so good!

Readers of the ESCAPE blog, and those of you that know our project, will be aware that we are trying to support staff develop both 'educationally effective' and 'resource efficient' assessment.

We believe that all staff want to do a good job but also acknowledge they experience various demands on their time. Research, consultancy activity, teaching, assessing students, providing pastoral care etc.

To reconcile the desire to help staff develop good assessments against the 'time-demanding' backdrop, part of our engagement is to provide ready access to the literature. Sure, staff might want quick 'hints and tips', and we are providing them, but we are keen too to make sure that the hints and tips etc. are located against a set of themes that describe what good assessment looks like.

For completeness, although stated elsewhere our ESCAPE themes are:

Good assessment for learning...
  • Engages students with the assessment criteria
  • Supports personalised learning
  • Ensures feedback leads to improvement
  • Focuses on student development
  • Stimulates dialogue
  • considers staff and student effort

These themes have evolved over the duration of the project and now follow us around as we talk about the project and work with our ESCAPE partners.

It's really helpful to know that as we share our themes in different arenas we are not seeing any adverse reaction. They seem to capture the thoughts of the practitioner too; indeed we wrote them with a view on being accessible and having face validity. They have been shown on numerous events, both inside and outside the University of Hertfordshire, and are seemingly doing what we set out to do.

In fact a participant at a recent event indicated he seen them before, Unlikely, (highly unlikely), but at least it shows the notion that the themes are not challenging 'appropriate' thinking about good assessment and that staff already indicate they like them.


Sunday, 27 June 2010


Dominic and I recently presented our work at the International Blended Learning Conference. The room was full – which was just great. We were joined too by Sarah knight and Marianne Sheppard from the JISC and so it was just great that they could pick up another update of our work and hear delegates thoughts of our work from delegates.

Essentially ..
1. We outlined the context for our project
2. We gave a run through of main features of the ESCAPE toolkit
  • Themes and questions (Diagnostic)
  • Features and consequences
  • Ideas (including our three minute assessment Tips, Themes in Practice, see earlier blog post)
3. We demonstrated an example of change in action

It was really good to see some of the concrete things emerging from the work. It was particularly rewarding too to look back at some of our Partner modules and just see how far we have taken them; both in terms of their thinking about assessment and feedback practice and also in their use of technology. .

We took a couple of questions at the end of the session. Perhaps the most encouraging was a question asking if access to our ESCAPE toolkit was possible – It is! Such interest validates our thinking and also shows how projects run by one institution can also help and influence practice elsewhere too.
I was really pleased that Sarah and Marianne were able to join us and see the fruits of their programme being shared with others.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Making an existing assessment activity more efficient

One of the 'additional' modules that sought our advice was Human Physiology - School of Life Sciences. Within that module the students were already engaging in peer assessment.

The peer assessment activity brought many learning opportunities but some of the hoped for time savings were lost with students immediately questioning the marks given by their peers.
Staff were engaged in time consuming activity associated with moderating the marks.

ESCAPE involvement sought to support the existing work but use technology to drive more reflection, try to get the to students' understand their strengths and areas for improvement and also require the students to present a considered and evidenced-based argument where they believed they were over or under marked.

The use of a web based data collection facility (offered by the ESCAPE project) provided some great data, encouraged the learning and also saved staff time.

The story was presented as a poster at the Fifth International Blended Learning Conference and represents a really good example of ESCAPE in practice.

Poster can be found here

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Assessment TIPs are on their way

You will be aware that we are using Themes (relating to good assessment and feedback practice) to help drive our work forward.

We are keen that the Themes are not abstract concepts. In fact we have written them so that the language is accessible and they have face-validity.

I am now in the process of preparing a collection of short videos showing the Themes in Practice (TIPs).

I'm going for 'three minute TIPs' since I want to be able to get the TIPs seen by busy academics. The first of our TIPs is attached.