Our guide on transforming assessment and feedback with technology is a key source of in-depth information about how technology can support innovation in pedagogic practice. There are however some examples of how better management of course information can improve assessment and feedback practice.
Course information systems
Course information systems can automate some of the basic administrative checking thus saving time and freeing up resource for other more value-added activities. The University of Lincoln course information system performs basic validation on assessment information such as checking that module assessments add to 100% and that modules link to programme outcomes, avoiding some of the manual administration that had to take place previously.
The university is now taking this further in the form of an ‘assessment builder’ application that will make the process of writing assignment documentation quicker, easier and more accurate by ensuring that the assessment delivered within the module is identical to the strategy as defined in the validated module documents.
Manchester Metropolitan University has recently introduced an employability curriculum framework including a set of graduate outcomes which should be assessed in every programme and each unit (module) description at undergraduate level now indicates which of these outcomes is addressed in the unit. The transforming assessment and feedback for institutional change (TRAFFIC) project has used the outcomes to develop a framework for electronic marking rubrics and grids using a set of institutional grade descriptors.
For each graduate outcome there is a threshold (pass) descriptor for each of the academic levels and descriptors to differentiate performance at each level in generic terms. Tying the outcomes recognisably into each assessment strengthens the concept of employability in the curriculum and improves transparency and consistency. The project team also notes that this gives the potential to include better information into HEAR without extra work on the part of staff.
Transparency and analysis
Other HE providers report that greater transparency about the curriculum allows senior academics and managers to be clearer about which aspects of the curriculum are being assessed and which are not so that they can target specific areas and address gaps in assessment. In the section on better management we discuss how addressing issues such as under or over assessment of learning can contribute to organisational efficiency as well as ensuring parity for students and improving the overall student experience.
Analysis of course information at Manchester Metropolitan University provided evidence to support an intuition that the university in general was over-assessing students and that this was having a negative impact on student achievement. In particular, the ‘bunching’ of assignments at particular times prevented students doing their best work in relation to each assignment (an issue also addressed by assessment diaries at the former University of Glamorgan and assessment timelines at the University of Hertfordshire).
A policy decision to limit the number of summative assignments in any particular unit (module) at Manchester Metropolitan University has resulted in students submitting an average of five pieces of coursework per year rather than the previous ten and, as a direct consequence, student attainment has improved as evidenced by large scale data analysis. The decrease in summative assignment also means that there can be more emphasis on formative assessment so that opportunities for feedback increase.
"… amongst senior managers there was a belief that assessment practice needed to change to increase formative and reduce the overall amount of summative assessment. This could include different approaches to evaluating what students knew and could do without the use of examinations."
University of Bolton
"By restricting the number of summative assessments permitted per unit, and the number of optional units, in one year we have moved from having around 3800 different assignments at level four to having just over 1,000."
Manchester Metropolitan University
Some projects are already seeing unintended benefits and opportunities from their activities. Working on course learning outcomes has prompted the University of Lincoln to explore the Mozilla Open Badge platform and how this might be used to record achievement both of formal learning outcomes and achievement via extra-curricular activities and the university already has a design that it is willing to share with others and a demonstrator application online. A member of the university can sign in and is minted a sample badge which is then passed to their Mozilla Open Backpack, completing the process of receiving, accrediting and displaying their open badge.