by Penny Parkinson, Centre for Inclusion and Curriculum

I attended this seminar on 8 December 2010 at the University of Bradford. It was led by Eddie Gulc from the Higher Education Academy and John Dermo, of the Centre for Educational Development, University of Bradford.

Dr Gulc began with a short introduction about the whole seminar series and the funding and drivers for enhancing learning through ICT. He ended by stressing the need to consider the purpose of assessment and to use it as part of the learning process.

John Demo then pointed out that there is a lot of evidence which shows that “appropriate and timely formative feedback” enhances the students learning, especially if it gives opportunities for students to reflect on their own work. He acknowledged that electronic assessment can only provide feed-forward information to a limited extent but suggested that if students are trained to make the best use of feedback, formative e-assessment can be very effective.

Dr Liz Carpenter from the Department of clinical sciences then described how her department have been using e-assessment in both formative and summative way. They checked progress of the students by subtracting the initial formative score from the summative score. The evidence showed that students who tried formative e-assessments on several occasions make better progress. There was no apparent pattern seen between students’ ability and the number of times they tried the tests. Up until now feedback has been given question by question but the Department are considering changing this to provide topic-based feedback or, when an answer is wrong, explaining why but not saying which answer is correct. They hope that this will encourage students to use the formative tests more frequently and for revision.

Dr Darwin Liang from the Department of engineering then gave an honest account of how he uses formative e-assessment. He admitted that he found producing these tests time-consuming and hard work and wasn’t sure if students benefited. He found that students don’t seem to want to engage with formative or low scoring assessment. His students have suggested that with frequent formative assignments, they feel over assessed and part way through a semester are likely to stop doing such tests.

Having discovered that the clock in the room had stopped and the session was over running, there was less time than planned for group discussion. Lecturers from Leeds Metropolitan University described how they get students to write multiple choice questions with suitable distracters and feedback. Suitable questions from the group are then added to the question bank for use in following years. Another lecturer, from the University of Hertfordshire, said that her students found formative e-assessment a good way to check their progress and prepare for exams. A number of lecturers agreed that this e-assessment can be very time-consuming although this can be front- heavy with less time needed to review and change questions as the years go on. We split into groups to consider some of the main challenges of e-assessment – a summary of this is attached.

We then visited the university’s E assessment suite where 100 flat screen terminals are used to assess large groups of students at the same time. This has been carefully set up with desks and terminals at different angles so no one has an easy sight line to another screen. The suite is used on a regular basis for both formative and summative assessments and at other times it can be used by students on a drop-in basis.

I found this seminar interesting, not least because I was surprised that some attendees were only just coming to the way of thinking that assessment forms part of learning!

The presentations from the seminar are available at http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/events/detail/2010/jointevents/08_Dec_Bradford_seminar

If you want to find out more information on Assessment and Feedback,  the Academy’s seminar series or other work completed by the Higher Education Academy, you may find the below links useful:

Penny Parkinson, Regional coordinator, Northern Hub of CIC, 14th December 2010

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