Technology Enhanced Learning was represented at the recent 17th Durham Blackboard Users Conference at Durham University. The theme this year was “Ticked Off – Towards Better Assessment and Feedback”, the aim of the sessions was to show how presenters had improved the student experience in terms of the conference themes.
An interesting keynote entitled “Translating evidence-based principles to improved feedback practices: The interACT case study” by Susie Schofield, University of Dundee opened the first day. She suggested that without a carefully constructed assessment criteria, feedback is useless. In other words you cannot give appropriate and worthwhile feedback without this as what exactly are you feeding back.
We then heard from Wayne Britcliffe, Richard Walker and Amy Eyre of the University of York. They described the various contexts in which the delivery of electronic feedback to students is being facilitated at the University of York through the use of learning technologies. Their main objective being to improve NSS scores or simply making the management of assessment and feedback processes more efficient and that the electronic management of assessment (EMA) is undoubtedly a hot topic across the higher education sector.
Patrick Viney from Northumbria University described their journey with the Pebblepad e-portfolio tool and how they have replaced the paper system of submitting undergraduate dissertation proposals. With over 800 students supported by over 100 academic tutors, logistical issues in managing such large numbers were significant. Patrick demonstrated how using Pebblepad had resulted in a robust, auditable, paper- free processes for managing dissertation proposals, ethical approval submissions and tutor support during the dissertation.
Thursday finished with a demonstration and talk by Blackboard on their new product “Ally”. This will make course content more accessible and allow assistive technology such as screen readers (JAWS, Window Eyes for example) to be able to more easily access the content. In the demo Nicolaas Matthij from Blackboard took a PDF and converted it on the fly into various formats including ebooks, on screen display and through JAWS. Whilst it is not a substitute for badly created content, it’s use could be seen as advantages to the university and the student experience.
Day 2 commenced with Alan Masson, Head of International Customer Success at Blackboard presenting on how Blackboard themselves can assist in the assessment and feedback. He used examples of presentations from the day before and also touched on forthcoming ones.
Steve Dawes from Regent’s University talked about their common module and the difficulties and challenges that face assessment and engagement in a University-wide module and how these issues were met using a blend of e-learning tools. He explained how the Learning Technology Team assisted academic staff in utilising a range of digital tools to maintain engagement such as using Poll Everywhere classroom voting to engage large student audiences, promoting Blackboard Journals for consistent formative feedback, enhancing efficiency in the Blackboard Grade Centre, and using Turnitin Rubrics for Summative assignments.
The next session saw Christian Lawson-Perfect & Chris Graham from Newcastle University demonstrate and discuss “Numbas”. This is an open source mathematical e-assessment system which is now being used in subject areas outside of maths. Two such examples being psychology and biomedicine. Two case studies were discussed including how using existing open-access material, course leaders were able within a short time period to create a large bank of formative and diagnostic tests and deliver it to students through Blackboard.
Finally, Pete Lonsdale form Keele University discussed and demonstrated a custom in house solution for assessing nursing students. At the time there was nothing available that fulfilled the requirements identified. He described how the system included such features as audio feedback and the option to take and upload photos. He also explained how since introducing the system, requests for more complex marking criteria have been received and implemented such as the use of rubrics. He concluded that their design and implementation story highlights the appetite for online assessment tools as well as the importance of getting the details of the system just right: they found that off-the-shelf tools just did not work for a variety of reasons, and even the bespoke system required many iterations to get to a version that worked for all.
For me, this conference is significant in that it was my first time that I have presented at a conference to peers and others in the academic world. My presentation was about how we have used Blackboard OpenEducation (A Free online version of the VLE that we use) as a diagnostic tool in the recruitment process for Health and Social Care programmes. Candidates that get through to stage 1 were invited to the University to undertake numeracy and literacy tests before the next stage. Candidates that failed these tests were rejected at this stage. This method was proving expensive both in terms of money and time for both for candidates and the university and alternatives were sought. In the presentation I discussed how this stage was adapted to work with OpenEducation, considering the likely challenges that lay ahead, how these could be factored in as well as how dealt with those we didn’t foresee.
I would like to thank the organizers and staff of the conference. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and worth going.