Birmingham Assessment Change Initiative

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The ‘Birmingham Assessment Change Initiative’ aimed to identify the issues, real or perceived, with changing assessment and feedback practice and understanding. The project also aimed to lay the foundations for significant and lasting cultural change at the University of Birmingham around attitudes and approaches to assessment and feedback practice.  This was achieved by engaging key stakeholders in a dialogue, and reviewing existing practice at the University in a strategic and systematic way across the institution. There was a particular focus on the perceptions and experience of staff in relation to assessment and feedback, which was reflected in the chosen methodologies.

The key output of the project is a report that provides an evidence base for wider institutional discussion around assessment and feedback practice.  A presentation of recommendations was made to the University Education Committee, enabling it to consider and approve a strategy to develop and enhance practice.

Findings revealed six themes which were key to assessment and feedback change:

  1. Tradition, reputation and rigour
    Tradition was often cited when discussing assessment methods and was related strongly to the reputation of the university. Rigour was also discussed, and staff expressed concerns about retaining rigour when changing assessment styles. The research-intensive nature of the University and the perceived lack of value of teaching is also considered in relation to assessment change.
  2. Employability and external frameworks
    This theme considered whether the skills required to perform well in assessments could translate into the ‘real world’ skills needed by graduates.  There was concern that any changes would impact on or be impacted by external frameworks, i.e. external examiners, regulators, professional bodies.
  3. Time and resources
    Most members of staff are very aware of their workload and the prospect of undertaking the large amount of extra work required improving, changing and rewriting assessments and feedback practice was off-putting.
  4. Introducing innovation can be difficult
    Innovation is already occurring across the institution, but participants in the research found that introducing change could be difficult. Barriers to change included colleague’s responses, cumbersome processes and slow progress.
  5. Staff experience and impact
    This section includes discussions about personal workload, exhaustion, experience of the job role and the perceived value of teaching roles in the university
  6. Student experience and impact
    This section gives evidence of an assessment-driven student population who have learned to work to the institutional tradition of high-stakes summative assessments, the rise in cheating was a great concern and it was felt that many students do not engage in learning that is not summatively assessed.

These themes are discussed in detail in the full report, with a selection of quantitative and qualitative data presented to demonstrate the most important issues to staff who took part in this project (link in section 6).

One measure of the success of this project has been the extent to which the learning and teaching community (both internal and external to the university) has been willing to engage in dialogue around assessment and feedback, and to discuss our research findings.

Internally we have presented at college events for the Colleges of Medical and Dental Sciences, and Engineering and Physical Sciences, at the Beacon Festival and at PG Cert workshops.  These workshops have informed our recommendations and contributed to the action plan.  Externally we have presented at a Birmingham/ Nottingham symposium, to the Heads of Educational Development Group, and we presented a paper at the Assessment in Higher Education international conference.

Project Category:

Education
Assessment

Funding Allocated:

£21,513

Funding stream:

Education Enhancement Fund

People:

Sarah King, Assistant Director (Educational Development), Higher Education Futures Institute (t: 0121 414 2963, e: s.king.2@bham.ac.uk)
Lisa Coulson, Projects Advisor, Higher Education Futures Institute (t: 0121 414 2960, e: l.j.coulson@bham.ac.uk)

 

For more information, contact the people above or the projects office on hefi.projects@contacts.bham.ac.uk, quoting reference CSLP167.