The BU Assessment and Feedback Toolkit: leading the way at ALDinHE

Anne Quinney, Ann Luce and Debbie Holley presented the BU Assessment and Feedback Toolkit to a national audience in a workshop at the ALDinHE conference last week. Alongside their work, two keynotes set the tone for different aspects of life in Higher Education today. The link to the programme is here, and all slides, presentations and recordings will be popluated over coming weeks.

Keynote 1: Dr Liz Morrish

Visiting fellow, York St John University

Pressure vessels: the epidemic of poor mental health among academics.

In this talk I will present findings that show how staff employed at Higher Education Institutions/ Universities are accessing counselling and occupational health services at an increasing rate. Between 2009 and 2015, counselling referrals have risen by 77 per cent, while staff referrals to Occupational Health services during the same period have risen by 64 per cent. This attests to an escalating epidemic of poor mental health among the sector’s employees. I will consider some of the factors which weigh on the mental health of academic staff: escalating and excessive workloads; the imposition of metric surveillance; outcomes-based performance management; increasing precarity and insecure contracts. Universities have been characterised as ‘anxiety machines’ which purposefully flout legal requirements to prevent stress in the workplace. Given the urgency of the situation, I will propose some recommendations which if institutions were to follow, might alleviate some of the pressures.

Liz Morrish is an independent scholar and activist for resistance to managerial appropriation of the university. She is a visiting fellow at York St John University. She was principal lecturer and subject leader of linguistics at Nottingham Trent University until speaking out and writing about the mental health of academics brought about her resignation in 2016. She is completing a co-authored book on managerial discourse in the neoliberal academy, entitled Academic Irregularities (Routledge forthcoming) and she also writes a blog with the same name (https://academicirregularities.wordpress.com/). Having exited the academy, Liz now has more time for other activities. As well as writing, she now spends time as a marathon swim observer.

Keynote 2 Professor Shân Wareing

Deputy Vice Chancellor/Chief Operating Officer, London South Bank University

Learning development and student narratives

As someone who was in learning development, and is now a senior manager, I will make use of these perspectives to explore some of the narratives about students currently in use in British higher education, their functions and effects, and the possible consequences for Learning Development.

Strategies, policy documents and the media refer to students as customers, partners, and learners, and often directly refer to them as or imply they are, young people; these terms construct universities reciprocally as shops, business investments or places of instruction.  These names, and implied narratives, play out in the articulation of institutional mission, organisation, marketing, staff engagement and industrial relations, and due to these factors, in institutional financial stability. They also influence how we personally, as staff and as students, make sense of our roles, how we construct our identity; they affect our sense of purpose and integrity.

In national policy environment narratives, we observe attempts to ignore or reconcile conflicting principles and interests: economic, social, political, local, national and global.  For students, these narratives create or address the questions: what are my options? What should I make sense of? How do I behave? What clues do I look for in my environment?

I will be considering the impact of some of these conflicting narratives to the field of Learning Development, and the consequences and options – opportunities and threats – created by the various circulating narratives.

Shân Wareing is Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) at London South Bank University (LSBU) and a Professor of Teaching in Higher Education. Her first degree is in English Language and Literature from University of Oxford, and she holds awards from the University of Strathclyde in linguistics and gender, and from the UCL Institute of Education in Higher Education.  She is a past Co-Chair of the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA), was a Senior Fellow of SEDA, a member of the 2014 English Subject Benchmark Review Group, and is a Fellow of the Leadership Foundation, a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a National Teaching Fellow, and won the Wonkhe’s 2017 award for writing the best piece of original analysis or argument on Wonkhe. She speaks nationally on topics include leadership and gender, oversaw the 2013 Bucks New University REF submission and the LSBU 2017 TEF submission, and currently leads LSBU’s student journey transformation programme, LEAP.

The BU talk – contact Anne Quinney, the CEL/FLIE theme leader for further information on Assessment and Feedback, including our Learning Excellence Acceleration Programme (LEAP) . The link to the Assessment and Feedback toolkit (stage one is here); external colleagues, please conatct Anne, Ann or Debbie for access.

From assessment of learning to assessment for learning; Leading assessment policy change supported by an Assessment & Feedback Toolkit.

Informed by the conclusion of Ball et al (2012 p8) that assessment practice in most universities has not kept pace with other far-reaching changes in HE and that “a radical rethink of assessment practices and regulations” and a “holistic and proactive approach” is required, the Centre for Excellence in Learning at BU bravely took up this large-scale challenge.

Implementing this evidence-based vision involved radical change to institution-wide assessment policy using a collaborative and partnership approach and the development of key resources in the form of an Assessment & Feedback Toolkit. The principles-based and evidence-based strategy focused on a rebalancing of summative and formative assessment tasks; a broader menu of assessment types; and the promotion of technology-enhanced learning strategies facilitated by a new VLE. The CEL team drew on leadership strategies set out in Quinney et al (2017) and invited large-scale engagement through Faculty Fiestas and external events (Quinney et al 2018) to critically inform the process.

Building on the success of the TEL Toolkit (Biggins et al 2017) an online Assessment & Feedback Toolkit was developed to support the changes. We will share critical reflections on our approach to enable others to undertake a similar institution-wide approach to bring about clear benefits for staff and students. The Toolkit will be demonstrated, and participants will try out and review a sample of resources including formative assessment activities and assessment literacy strategies and discuss the considerations for toolkit design and construction.

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