Conference time: -
Update from Day 3 of the REAP International Online Conference

It may have been Day 3 of a packed Conference, but there was still lots of enthusiastic people chatting and posting to the fora. Almost 3,500 messages have been exchanged in the session chats, while there are over 100 threads or topics to reflect on in the fora.

Here's a run-down of some highlights from the chat and discussion fora from the final day of the conference

Session on The interaction of peer & tutor feedback
As well as the considering the tensions between, and value placed on peer and tutor feedback, the chat session touched on peer and self assessment, identity development, power relations (in particular re awarding marks) and the effect of assessment on students.

Crossouard and Pryor felt it vital that tutors actively collaborate with students during the development of assessment tasks, so that it is not just "tacked on at the end of the module". The most useful feedback might then emerge if it is "part of a dialogue rather than just a bald statement" (John Pryor, chat excerpt). Questions were raised given that this ultimately ends in a power relationship, where tutors award marks. One solution could be for peers to participate in the summative assessment; the implication being that not involving students at that stage affects how seriously peer formative feedback is taken.

The potentially changing value of peer vs tutor feedback was still up for debate. Yet, while in Bates case study some of the students did view the tutor's word as definitive "in reality of course their peers can show a better appreciation of the problem at hand (as they might be experiencing something similar too" (Simon Bates, chat excerpt). Helen Ashton also started a new Topic on whether peer assessors gain more when they are experts.

Session on Writing for scientists
This was an indepth but fast moving discussion. The two case studies had a similar theme - that writing is an essential and integral part of the professional life of a scientist - but took different approaches,  reflective writing and report writing. The main feature of both case studies was extensive provision of built-in formative assessment and feedback opportunities that have become part of the culture and are purposeful.

Student engagement is high but as John Hamer noted, any indication that 'Normal Transmission' will be resumed is likely to de-motivate the students. Three issues struck a chord:
* How students understand and use feedback, particularly as a trigger for directing future actions - further research is needed this aspect.
* There was agreement that products of these activities - reflective reports (Hamer) and draft lab reports (Taylor) - are as useful for the staff/tutors as the students.
* And there is evidence that these students develop transferable skills that they continue to use beyond the life of the courses.

Session on Collaborative writing in divergent disciplines
Authors Quintin Cutts, Nandini Das and Stuart McGugan explained their innovative designs and the educational and employability rationales underpinning them.  Discussion in the session centered on the importance of clarifying criteria and opportunities for students to develop their own criteria.  Other hot topics included the challenge of summative assessment of group work and the changing role of writing: from a private activity to a public, and shared endeavour. 

HE Academy Panel Session on Student input to assessment design & strategy
Certainly the most active debate of the conference! Discussion touched on a number of key issues surrounding student engagement and involvement in designing assessments. There was a general consensus that student involvement was a 'good thing'. However there was considerable debate as to how and at what level students could/actually want be involved in the process and how tutors could integrate that into their courses. One suggestion was the idea of a 'buffet' style selection whereby students could select preferred assessment methods - with the caveat of no turkey twizzlers allowed. Maha Bali has posted a link with more information on this in the Models of assessment Topic in the discussion forum.

Session on Students deciding on assessment criteria
In Maddalena Taras and Rosario Hernadez’ session on students developing assessment criteria an examination of the changing role of the tutor in scaffolding students to develop self-regulation skills was a key issue.  Additionally, the relationship between student-generated criteria and course outcomes was a contentious issue.

Keynote on Assessment in the first year of higher education: old principles in new wrapping?
The chat for Prof Yorke's keynote focused on questions relating to the tensions inherent in curriculum design. Discussion started on the topic of whether a programme is more than the sum of its modules. (A Topic also picked up in the fora.)

The consensus was that it must be, particularly where there is a link to professional programmes. Yet, to gain extra value from a programme, modules have to be interdependent, and that means coordination across the curriculum. Suggestions for how this added-value might be assessed included dissertations, year long projects, or portfolios. This led on to discussion around whether it is better to promote good learning rather than grades for first years. The merits of using small tests that become more challenging over the use of the 'grand exam' at the of the year were debated. It was noted that interim failure may be a necessary part of learning.

This led on to international differences and similarities in terms of exemptions and trust; allowing students to articulate some of their needs versus the management of learning contracts within a large course, and the need to rank students (eg for allocating scholarships); as well as whether first year modules should count towards the final degree.

Finally, in relation to tracking assessment across the curriculum, various suggestions were put forward, including a set of audit tools developed by the STAR project (Student Transition and Retention).

REAP Panel on Sharing responsibility for assessment: reflections on the conference
The final chat session of the conference was a lively affair, with reflections on the past three days being given by David Nicol and Steve Draper, as well as invited panel members (Maha Bali, Sean McKitrick, Derek Rowntree, and Mark Russell). As well as sharing lots of ideas for improving assessment, such as using team teaching, there was much discussion about the future of the conference – from how individual delegates planned to change their assessment practices to partnership possibilities for future online conferences!

Now it's over to you
While there are no further scheduled chat sessions, discussion continues in the conference discussion fora. After the hustle and bustle of the conference, this is your chance to reflect and add your views to the various debates on assessment.

In the next week or so, we will be asking you to complete an evaluation of your experience of the conference.

For now it just remains for me to thank all of you for joining us at this busy and stimulating conference. On your behalf, I would also like to thank the Scottish Funding Council, who made all this possible by funding the REAP project and this conference.


Dr Rachel A Harris
Inspire Research Ltd

On behalf of the REAP project team, and Conference Organisers Inspire Research Ltd