Prof Graham Gibbs made the keynote address this year’s University’s LTA conference on July 5th. His talk was videoed by our TEL’s video team and can be viewed further down in this post.
The Learning Technology team and I would imagine most others at UoD found his talk challenging and stimulating. Although there was little per se about the focus of this blog, learning technologies, the implications of his arguments are considerable and impact on what has been a major priority for us and many academics over the last year, the provision of electronic feedback to students, or as it is now frequently referred to, feedforward strategies.
The opening topic of Professor Gibbs address was about programmes and programme integrity. His general contention was that the predominant focus of universities is misplaced on small elements of the learning experience, i.e. modules, arguing that this focus neither matches the motivations of students nor allows the most effective support.
He gave the example of a university that was moving away totally from modularisation towards larger chunks in learning, breaking down programmes only by year of study.
The nature of modules militates against what was the other major theme of Professor Gibbs talk, the urgent need to alter the balance of summative and formative assessment dramatically in the direction of formative assessment.
Gibbs looked at a number of universities’ experiences. He looked at one university where “the teachers work like anything, they really care, I couldn’t fault the teachers… It meets all the expectations of QAA, learning outcomes, aligned assessments. Course documentation etc. is immaculate.. There were 15,000 words of feedback (over the course of an average student’s studies) but despite the huge volume of feedback… it doesn’t work!”
Why? Because students do not see the feedback as useful; it was returned too late; the module curriculum was not seen to have long term subject general relevance; the methods of assessment were unlikely to be repeated and so advice would not help them with other assignments; even simple words and phrases used in feedback, such as ‘conclusion’ or ‘summary’ were not really understood.
Professor Gibbs’ answer to this was to refocus on programme rather than module development.. “the people who have put all their quality enhancement effort into individual module, individual teachers … are not succeeding… the places that are moving up through the rankings, developing reputations, sometimes quite surprisingly are those that have strategic approaches to the development of programmes”.
The University of Derby is currently re-emphasising the importance of formative feedback. But what does Professor Gibbs say about what you need to do to make that work, other than avoiding focusing too much on module priorities?
- Reduce the number of summative assessments during a programme, at Oxford they often only have eight.
- Plan explicitly on the basis of giving feedforward to the students.
- If you are giving appropriate formative feedback/ feedforward, is there a need for summative feedback at all?
- If possible give oral feedback although Prof Gibbs takes this to be primarily a conversational feedback which allows the terminology used to be clarified. Again at Oxford formative feedback is extensively given to students through the tutorial system.
- Use peer assessment even of the ‘quick and dirty’ variety. He makes a strong argument against marking having any role in formative assessment.
Of course, there was a lot more to Professor’s Gibbs talk than is summarised here and there are a number of similar talks of his at universities on Youtube that are well worth viewing.
But what does that have to do with us, the Learning Technology team or those interested in learning technologies?
- One of the problems with feedback to students is the difficulty in managing it. Unlike Oxford, our staff and students are under greater time pressures. We need to be able to develop, conduct and stagger formative assessments using time-efficient online tools. The tools are there. Some we are already using in summative feedback.
- Should we move away from feedback being seen as one-way and look instead at online conversational tools?
- Should we worry less about peer assessment being ‘clean’ and quality assured: instead looking at ‘quick and dirty’ peer assessment where marks are not the issue, where the quality is less important than the volume, the ease of its aggregation and the thinking that it promotes with students. Would this encourage the use of online peer assessment tools?
- Programme meetings, the first step in effective programme development that Prof Gibbs calls for, are always difficult to organise and get full attendances at. Can online collaborative tools be better used to support programme development?
- We have programme areas on Blackboard. Whilst we support Threshold Standards for modules, should we be trialling improving the use of those areas, recognising the greater identity that students have with their programmes and their subject rather than their modules?
Of course, we know that there is a lot of good work in many programmes across the university. How can we share that more effectively? Maybe this blog could be a place to start sharing them?[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEM_YRNJfi4#t=26m]