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June 23, 2010

PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies' June 24th 2010: pre–workshop reflection

I have completely transformed this workshop following the last time I ran it when I felt that I had provided too little content for participants to engage with and reflect on. (For my pre- and post-workshop blog reflection, please see: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/alisonlecornu/entry/pcapp_workshop_assessment/) How to provide content in an appropriate, stimulating, motivating yet appropriate way is my big challenge of the moment. It is, I think, the biggest challenge that relates to my having adopted a largely reflective approach that invites participants to contribute their own experience. While all the feedback to my sessions indicates that this is a welcome approach which participants find effective and 'dignified' (they don't feel like students!), I am aware that many, even most, actually do come wanting to leave having learnt something concrete that they can take away and put into practice. While this can, of course, come from their peers (and is often all the richer for that), I also sense a desire for the 'expert' to convey what contemporary scholarship considers important and convey too what some of the principles of good practice are.

My challenge is that in general I have experienced quite a strong resistance to the approach which means I, as the expert, prepare a powerpoint presentation and stand or sit in front of the class and deliver it. Even if (as I always would) I built in plenty of opportunity for discussion, group work, etc., there still seemed to be a sense of resentment that (I think) may have been linked with the fact that this approach finds it very difficult to adapt if someone comes with significant experience and feels they are being talked down to. The PCAPP context is unlike most teaching situations, since although there is some continuity of participants (we see most people for all 10 obligatory workshops) there is no continuity of content and it is impossible for those of us in the LDC to ascertain in a meaningful way who will benefit from what degree of input at what level, and equally impossible for us to know who comes with what level of experience.

So I changed my approach to a primarily participant-driven model, structuring my sessions in such a way that participants' experience provides a significant degree of content, but I am left with the above conundrum!

For this session, I have done something quite different, and I have designed the workshop around the Deliberations website hosted at London Met University. There are some excellent resources there on Assessment, and the advantage of using the website in the session is that I am introducing participants to a really useful resource that I hope they will get to know well enough to be able to refer to in their subsequent practice. It also means they hear new and different voices to my own, as well as being provided with and having the opportunity to engage with a good degree of content. My decision to use the website provoked new challenges, though. Does the Teaching Grid have enough PCs for each participant to work alone? Do I want them to work alone? Can they work in pairs or small groups around a laptop? Some of the articles are quite long. Will they all read at the same speed? Do I (or they) want long periods of silence while everyone is reading? Will they consider this any better than listening to me with my powerpoint?! Would it be any better?!

I found a way forward through these questions by deciding to direct the participants' reading. I have prepared a short set of questions which are designed to focus on the most significant dimensions of the content, the answers to which they will need to find by surfing the site. The TG has promised about 12 laptops, which means the best course of action is almost certainly for people to work in pairs or small groups (there are 15 attending). I hope that by making the questions the focus of the activity, rather than the text, the reading will be more fun and less intense, allowing for discussion and conversation as they hunt for the information as well as once they've found it. There is a great paper on the site called 'Changing Assessment to Improve Learning'. It is the summary of an interactive keynote session led by Prof Phil Race at the 1st Northumbria Assessment Conference UK in 1996. However, it's very long, so I've decided to mimic the original session, using some of the questions Race used to initiate thought and discussion. In order to introduce some added value, I have prepared these using Clickers (hand held voting remote controls), so I will be asking participants to vote on a range of issues to do with assessment. This is the only paper from the website that I have photocopied so that once we have engaged with its content, small groups can go and discuss, comparing their own responses with those of the people who attended the original session.

Will it work? I can only try it and see. But that's what teaching is, evaluating my practice, seeing if I can find ways of addressing the issues that I think need(ed) attention and then evaluating again. Feedback from participants is therefore crucial. Hence this blog.


December 17, 2009

PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies': post–workshop reflection

Follow-up to PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies': pre–workshop reflection from Alison's blog

I find reflecting on this workshop quite challenging. At one level it seemed to go reasonably well. 8 of the 10 people who had registered for it turned up, three of whom had attended the morning session on course design. There was a general mood of interest, engagement and cooperation and participants contributed well to the various activities I had organised. Discussion was focused and on task, and in general terms I think the learning outcomes for the session were achieved. Feedback too was good. All the participants indicated that the teaching and learning methods used had either been effective or very effective, with none ticking the 'neutral' box or below. There was a range of things which people indicated they had found effective, useful and would take away to use in their professional practice:

  • Discussion with others, sharing experience
  • Handouts that I can refer back to and which I will use to improve my essay and exam question composition
  • Good mixture of lecture and group work
  • Great mix of task types; kept me engaged and interested. Delivered mirrored principles.
  • Opportunity to reflect and focus on this aspect of my practice
  • Disseminate some of the information provided to colleagues
  • Small group work was very effective
  • ...

So what am I dubious about? One participant commented (correctly, I think) that 'the activities could have been a bit more challenging' and another said 'maybe we spent too long in our small groups discussing only one of the three issues'. That groupwork activity was probably the least successful dimension of the workshop and I need to revisit it. The intention was to provide content, but rather than transmit it from the front, to get the participants to engage with it on their own terms and then teach each other, but it needed more careful planning. I think I still consider the approach valid, but the way I constructed it didn't really gel.

I guess I feel therefore that I didn't really introduce the participants to some of the basic, and essential considerations when thinking about assessment. That's pretty crucial! Yet I also need to listen to that good feedback. I had deliberately designed the session in a way which acknowledged and took advantage of people's experience. Although some participants were relatively new to lecturing in HE, none of us gets through our national educational system without experiencing assessment from the other side of the fence, and all had something to contribute. My role therefore became one of guiding discussion, filtering in my expertise at appropriate points, and making sure that as far as possible people moved on in their 'informed' thinking about their practice.

I can probably leave it there. But my musings feed into my bigger questioning about how best to impart scholarly content in these workshops. I am beginning to explore the idea of a 15 to 20 min 'This is what scholars are saying' slot. PCAPP is a post-graduate certificate, and it is important that I do give participants content appropriate for that level. It becomes attractive to them too because it gives them a leg-up for their PCAPP assignments. I shall have to give that more thought.

Comments welcome!


December 11, 2009

PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies': pre–workshop reflection

As I've planned this workshop (see outline here) I've become increasingly aware of how dependent I am on the participants wanting to contribute and being prepared to engage and discuss. Without that, the whole thing will fall on its face! Unlike the Course Design workshop, however, I think I can assume that all the participants have experience both of being assessed and of setting assessments. So I think it will be crucial to take advantage of that bank of resource(s) and fully acknowledge that experience right at the start. That's one of the reasons why I've begun the workshop by asking participants to circulate round the whole Teaching Grid space and to initial each of the A4 sheets which outlines a form of assessment they use in their discipline. The point of that is not only to value their experience, but also to demonstrate to them that there are many types of assessment, some of which they may not have come across but which may well be routinely used in another discipline. I did the same exercise the last time I ran this workshop, but not at the beginning, and I was poor at following it up with the result that all the richness was not made available to everyone. This time I'm using it to kick the workshop off and it will lead immediately into a time of discussion. This will focus on questions such as, 'Why are different types of assessment used?', 'What's the difference, from a learning perspective, between an exam and an essay?', 'How do we evaluate the quality of essays?', and the more personal 'What assessment practices are you particularly proud of?' and 'What have you struggled with?'. If participants (I think about 9 of them) are unwilling to speak in front of the whole group I will divide them into smaller groups and have a feedback session after. I will follow that up by brainstorming the times when we need to be able to evaluate assessment practice (and hence introduce the need for this workshop), introducing occasions such as external examining, being an external member on a validation committee, following best practice for marking procedures, and responding to student feedback.

From there I want to go into some of the meat of the session, eliciting from the participants some of the key considerations when assessing. For me, those key considerations are:

  • Constructive alignment
  • Formative and summative assessment
  • Good practice when designing assessment tasks and activities
  • Responding to student feedback.

There may be more that I need to add as I go on reading and reflecting.

I am keen to avoid as much as possible asking participants simply to sit and listen. For one thing it doesn't cohere with my understanding of how people learn best; for another, feedback (spoken, written, and in body language) has indicated that this is rarely appreciated in the context of PCAPP. So how can I 'deliver' this content?

I decided that I would try a technique that can really only happen in the Teaching Grid given its fantastic array of technology. If I were in a traditional classroom or lecture theatre I would have to think about how it could be achieved in a different way. However, since the TG has a lot of computers available, and there is a good amount of material on the web about Constructive Alignment, I plan to divide the participants into 3 groups, one of which will use the computers to find out as much as they can about CA. Another group will brainstorm good practice when designing assessment tasks and activities, and the last will look at a photocopy of Phil Race's chapter on 'What has Assessment Done for us--and to us?' and evaluate his suggestions. Each of the groups can use a Smart Board to make notes and compile a 'poster'. After about 15 minutes I will ask the groups to reform and tell the others about their findings, going on to discuss the relevance and critique as well as find the good in all the ideas.

Then a break.

After the break the session will become more creative. Ask the participants firstly to design an assessment for this workshop. Once they have done that, then ask them to design the assessment for the whole of the PCAPP programme.

I have never tried the approach of what is effectively peer to peer teaching in this context before. I am not sure what I think about it for this workshop, although I am certainly convinced of its efficacy in other situations and have experienced its strengths. I have decided to go for it here because I really want to avoid the 'sit and listen to the expert' scenario, but also because I hope it will encourage participants to engage with the material at a deeper level, asking questions, sharing discussion and applying it to their practice. Much depends, as I said when I started this blogpost, on their willingness to cooperate...


August 03, 2009

Assessment Practice and Strategies web ad


August 3rd 09

Last week I worked on the advertisement for the PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies'. It will provide the general information about the workshop that potential participants will see when they first start looking for information on the LDC website, so it is important that I compose something appealing. It's also important that it reflects transparently what the workshop is aiming to achieve and the way it will be conducted.

With my developing desire that these workshops should be highly reflective, I am concerned that this web ad communicates this. Composing it was an interesting exercise. The first issue which it raised was what the role of the content of the workshop was, and therefore what the purpose of the workshop was. So I grappled with questions such as:

  • Is this really a session in which I plan to transmit a fair bit of information about assessment practice and strategies to the participants?
  • Is that the primary goal of the session?
  • Clearly one of the purposes of the session must be to transmit information, since this is important and relevant, but can I do this in a way in which reflection is also fostered and engaged in?

It seemed to me that I needed to bring in an additional dimension but without sacrificing the content completely. Content and reflection on content and practice needed to walk hand in hand, but in many ways the reflection needed to have the upper hand. A number of participants at these workshops have had relevant experience in designing assessment tasks with their students and one of the things I wanted to do was to respect this, to treat all participants as adults by not simply expecting them to sit behind desks (feeling diminished?) and dutifully take notes about something they were already familiar with. Instead, I wanted to capitalise on their experience, hopefully getting them to share it with others who either had less experience or whose backgrounds (especially those from abroad) meant that they really needed the introduction and the content. But even this is not enough: for those with this type of relevant experience, I wanted to develop their ability to reflect and evaluate on their previous and present practice, with a view to enhancing it in the future. In short, I wanted to develop reflective practitioners, and potentially a community of reflective practitioners.

I decided to state that in the web ad. In response to the prompt, 'What for will the workshop take?', I wrote the following.

The workshop will focus on a range of issues relating to assessment. Although it will introduce material derived from the scholarship of teaching and learning, its primary emphasis is on developing reflective practitioners. You should come prepared to discuss and evaluate aspects of your practice through dialogue with others and engagement with educational theory and research, with a view to developing your thinking in this area.

I hoped that this outline appropriately highlighted the fact that participants would be introduced to content and some of the relevant scholarship on assessment that needs to inform their practice, while at the same time emphasised that this content in some way took the form of a tool rather than an end in its own right.

The learning outcomes were a further challenge. I tried to compose LOs which prioritised the reflective aspect of what I wanted to achieve, but to my dismay, everything that I put on paper sounded rather weak. I realised at that point that 'reflection' can sound insipid, worryingly empty, and hence unattractive, especially for colleagues whose subjects are very content-focused. I came face-to-face, again, with the realisation that so much of my subject discipline, education, is about process. How to communicate that in such a way that participants can grasp what I'm getting at? Maybe this blog is one way in which I'm addressing that... In the end, I opted for a longer list of LOs which had a mix of content- and process-focused goals, as follows:

By the end of the workshop you will:

·        Be able to state the major reasons why good assessment practice is crucial within Higher Education and compare this thinking with your own practice

·        Have engaged with current thinking about how to ensure good quality, and appropriate, assessment

·        Be able to identify a range of methods of assessment and associate these with desired types of learning

·        Have reflected on your own practice through interaction with peers and educational theory

·        If appropriate, have formulated ideas about how to enhance and improve the assessment methods you currently employ

·        Have reflected on and internalised the session as a whole so that your future practice is enhanced and you have developed the skills of a reflective practitioner

As I progressed, I realised that the emphasis (and addition) of reflection into the normal 3-hr workshop would have a major impact on time, and therefore on the amount of content that could be introduced or 'covered'. Another challenge! My concern to treat participants as adults resurfaced, and I decided the only way forward was to suggest that they did some prior reading. Glasgow University's equivalent to the LDC offers a good self-study course on assessment, and Brookes's CETL, the Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange (ASKe), has made a relevant Position Paper available on the web. I couldn't be sure that people would read either (everyone must be familiar with that difficulty!) but if some did, then once again it would give them material to work with during the session as well as a resource to turn to afterwards.

The full web ad can be found here:

http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/blogbuilder/admin/adminFiles.spr?blog=094d7399223072b5012254d5ca2d1000

It's just a draft at the moment. Please feel free to comment!


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