Viewpoints Project: principles as a tool to support module and course redesign
In the Viewpoints project (wiki.ulster.ac.uk/display/VPR/Home), the University of Ulster have piloted a series of workshops where academic staff rethink the design of a module or a course using the REAP assessment and feedback principles. The Viewpoints team have printed nine principles on cards: each card has a single principle and a question on one side and on the other a set of examples of implementation (these are all drawn from Nicol (2009, see below).
Nine principles seems to work well here as course teams are asked to select those that they think are most relevant to the challenge they face and also because the participants are engaging in workshop task. In that task, as participants discuss one principle it leads them to consider another (from the pack) - this confirms the intuition I had when I wrote about them in 2009 saying that they would serve as 'building blocks' for each other or that the use of one 'would call on another'.
In the Viewpoints workshop academics also have a timeline of the module or the programme and they are normally encouraged to place the cards/principles on the timesheet. This is a simple poster sized sheet divided into four time-zones - the participants map these out to fit their perception of a module or a course etc. They start by placing the principles/cards on the timesheet - repeating the same principle many times as appropriate - they have many sets of cards. Then when they have the big picture the facilitator encourages them to 'think about how they will implement these ideas'. Members of the course team then turn over the cards and look at the examples, discuss those and modify them or invent their own. The examples are just that - trigger ideas that are expanded upon. Participants record their ideas on post-it notes and place them on the timesheet. At the end of a session the facilitator photographs the output - the timesheet and placed cards and post-its to provide a permanent record.
The Viewpoints workshop is very simple but also very powerful. More detail about the benefits can be found on the University of Ulster website. I cannot do justice to the value of the process or the benefits here. However, it is worth noting that academics report that the artefacts (the timesheet and the principles) are very effective in facilitating productive discussions about how to improve teaching and learning in a module or course. The visible nature of the artefacts provides a shared representation as new ideas for the course are discussed and placed on the time-sheet. The beauty of the process is that it is the 'principles that facilitate the discussion' (Masson, 2012).
Learner proactiveness and implementation of principles
A key idea behind many assessment and feedback principles concerns learner pro-activeness: what I mean here is that the more active learners are and the more responsibility that they have in the implementation of a principle, the more empowering the educational experience. For example, a teacher might ‘clarify what good performance is’ [principle 1 in the Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) seven principles] for an essay writing task by providing learners in advance of the assignment with a list of printed criteria. However, what if the teacher instead organised a session where learners were required to examine some example essays (e.g. produced by a previous student cohort) before carrying out the assignment to identify which is better and why. The second approach would usually be more empowering than the first because the learners would be more actively engaged in constructing, internalising and owning the assessment criteria. This pro-activeness dimension is relevant with regard to all the REAP principles. It is recommended, therefore, that in implementing principles consideration is always given to how responsibility might be shared with learners so that they are active participants in assessment processes.
Recasting the educational Discourse in Higher Education: A principles-based model of change
David Nicol and Michela Clari
This paper provides a new way of thinking about and managing change in higher education institutions. It makes the case for using research-informed educational principles as a srategic resource to seed new conversations, new mindsets and new teaching and learning practices across a whole higher education institution. The paper draws on recent projects that have used assessment and feedback principles as a framework to guide wide-ranging changes in curriculum practices across higher education institutions (Nicol and Draper, 2009: Draper and Nicol, 2013: Ferrell and Gray, 2013) and on current research in organisational development which highlights the importance of language and discourse in organisational change processes (Grant and Marshak, 2011: Marshak and Grant, 2011). This paper is relevant to change agents and senior managers in higher education who wish to make significant and long lasting improvements in the quality of educational provision. It presents a practical approach to the planning, implementation and evaluation of a large-scale change initiative in higher education. David Nicol June 2015.
Draper, S.W. and Nicol, D.J. (2013) Achieving transformational or sustainable educational change. In S. Merry, M. Price., D. Carless., & M. Taras (eds) Reconceptualising feedback in higher education: Developing dialogue wth students. London: Routledge, pp190-203
Ferrell, G. & Gray, L. (2013) Changing assessment and feedback practice: How to approach large-scale change in assessment and feedback practice with the help of technology. Available at www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/changing-assessment-and-feedback-practice
Nicol, D (2012) Transformational change in teaching and learning: recasting the educational discourse, Evaluation of the Viewpoints project at the University of Ulster. Funded by JISC UK. July 22nd [This document shows how the principles developed in Nicol, 2009 were turned into a toolkit and used to spread a new discourse about assessment and feedback across a whole HE institution.] Full Text
Nicol, D. (2009) Transforming assessment and feedback: enhancing integration and empowerment in the first year. Published by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. [This document provides a list of 12 principle of assessment and feedback, the research rationale for each, an explanation and some examples of how they could be implemented in different disciplinary contexts] Full text
Nicol, D, (2009), Assessment for Learner Self-regulation: Enhancing achievement in the first year using learning technologies, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(3),335-352
Nicol, D and Draper, S. (2009) A blueprint for transformational rrganisational change in higher education: REAP as a case study. In Education through Technology-Enhanced Learning,edited by T. Mayes, D. Morrison, H. Meller, P. Bullen, and M. Oliver, 191-207. York. Higher Education Academy. text
Nicol, D, J. & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006), Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice, Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.