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Assessment & Feedback Symposium 2022: Current problems and future solutions addressed virtually

16 Nov 2022 | Advance HE Advance HE’s Assessment & Feedback Symposium brought a host of people from across the UK together virtually to discuss the challenges in improving how HEIs assess students and in getting good feedback from them, as well as the potential solutions and future innovations in the field.

Despite a late change to a virtual format for Advance HE’s Assessment & Feedback Symposium 2022 on 9 November, academics from across the UK came together to discuss the challenges and potential solutions for assessing students and getting feedback.  

The symposium was opened by Professor Tansy Jessop, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University of Bristol, who talked about both change and continuity in programme assessment, addressing several key questions that can arise around accurately and fairly assessing students, mainly ‘what is a programme approach to assessment?’ and ‘why is a programme approach so important for student learning?’. Shs said the focus was on the student because “a lot of the work around programme assessment is really about fostering student agency, getting more ownership over assessment and feedback.” 

Professor Jessop started by asking delegates what they thought programme assessment meant, to see if there were any common themes amongst their responses, picking out terms like ‘ethos’, ‘connection’, and ‘integration’. She said she views programme assessment as being “about academics on a programme, talking to each other and designing the curriculum together in a way that the assessment stitches up. It is quite simple. But it is not that simple because there is a lot of individualistic protectionism.” 

By talking about the importance of seeing the bigger picture when designing programmes and modules, Prof Jessop compared lecturers building their modules to multiple people drawing their parts of an elephant, “not seeing it as a whole elephant but seeing it confined and contained in a particular aspect”. She said this often implies that assessment is designed on each module with risk averse academics designing more than one, “And you land up amplifying the number of assessments … you end up with post facto feedback, and the end of a module, which students don't necessarily trust to feedforward into the next module, because there is not a shared program ethos.” 

The result of this is that 80% of assessments are essays, exams, and the tried and tested, whilst 20% are the “exciting things, posters, research projects, portfolios, fantastic things.” However, Prof Jessop said this ends up being quite confusing for students “which leads the elephant to look more like Salvador Dali's elephant which is disproportionate. It is funny but it is quite inelegant and does not contain a good elephant-y program glossary. The legs are too long to hold a body. It is not a great experience for students”. 

Professor Jessop ended by asking delegates what was stopping them from making progress with regards to assessment and feedback. Key responses were time, fear of getting it wrong, institutional immersion, modular protectionism, and worries of students not engaging with the change. To help with this, she suggested three things to keep in mind when implementing changes on assessment and feedback:  

  • a clear vision and programme focus before starting 
  • an appreciation that assessment “works differently in different contexts, disciplines and cultures”  
  • courage which can be supported by “a community like this one and others that are thoughtful and engaged in program assessment to drive forward a holistic vision about changing the narrative in assessment and feedback.” 

After the keynote Dr Charlie Lea from the University of Brighton discussed changing assessment and feedback culture through implementing a new institutional policy that still implemented a school specific approach. She said by doing this there was better compliance with the new policy and support was higher due to a top-down approach helping those who would have otherwise struggled to implement such a change.  

National Teaching Fellow 2022 Dr Abdullahi Arabo from the University of the West of England presented on authenticity as a mechanism for an effective meso assessment and feedback strategy, which discussed how using authentic assessment, students as co-markers, and staff as moderators can increase student potential and reduce award gaps.  

Dr Eleanor Hodgson and Oliver Young from the University of Exeter talked about how they had reimagined assessment at their university, assessing current best practice, barriers to improvement and how to get students involved in creating change, concluding that it was highly important to ensure assessment choice at all levels of learning.  

In the afternoon, delegates were able to choose to join a variety of different sessions with themes such as ‘Improving assessment and feedback experiences for neurodivergent students’, ‘The merits and challenges of video feedback’, ‘Making the language of assessment and feedback inclusive through dialogue’, ‘Shifting the culture of feedback via a formative assessment experiment’ and much more.  

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We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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