Reflections from an Assessment and Feedback festival: a two-part blog. Part 1.

The keynote Lecture, entitled “Reflections on transforming assessment and feedback: complexity and collaboration” was presented by Bournemouth University academics Debbie Holley and Anne Quinney to the Medway universities’ Creative and inclusive Assessment and Feedback Festival September 2020.

 

Medway Learning and Teaching festival is an annual event which has run since 2014. Because of the unique set-up of three universities; Kent, Greenwich and Canterbury Christ Church, on the Medway site, the festival organisation is shared by a small committee of representatives from each of the three universities.

 

In Part 1 of this 2 part blog. Louise Frith, Learning Adviser and co-organiser of the three University festival, offers her insights on running a complex conference in an engaging and interactive format, with a wide range of speakers and participants, some digitally expert and others less so.

 

“Our staff were initially a little hesitant about having an online Festival, but these comments show how, with careful design, we were able to make it an engaging, inclusive and informative day. Participant feedback included ‘Extraordinary! Full commitment with the cause’ and interesting and innovative’.

 

Planning for the festival always starts a year in advance, so we planned our event with the usual considerations of conference theme, key-note speaker, venues and refreshments., with the theme ‘Creative and Inclusive Assessment and Feedback’. We invited Professor Debbie Holley because of her innovative work in these areas.  By March 2020 a physical conference was looking unlikely, so we decided to go online. All the contributors embraced the new format and in some ways it presented new opportunities; for example, Debbie suggested that she invite a colleague with expertise in assessment and feedback, Anne Quinney, to co-present with her, making the session more interactive and enabling smoother online management of the keynote. MS TEAMS was used as the presentation platform as it is the most familiar platform for all three institutions and it is free to use.

 

Learning to teach and present online has been a steep learning curve for most staff in HE, but by September 2020 it was beginning to feel like the ‘new normal’. Some sessions were perfectly suited to online presentation; such as one on the use of a chatbots and another on feedback literacy for prospective students. Other sessions were harder to imagine online; an example of this was the session on mindfulness from a Student Support and Wellbeing Service and Student Learning Advisory Service. The aim of the session was to introduce participants to the aims of mindfulness, some university mindfulness initiatives and a 10-minute guided mindfulness practice. Despite the challenges of delivering this session online, the presenters were able to create a sense of group cohesion and a moment of calm within the busy conference environment enabling participants to experience mindfulness remotely. Feedback on the session was very positive one participant commenting,

 

You got me to stop checking all of my screens/phones for 30 minutes and actually breathe and relax a little. My shoulders especially appreciated it!”

 

Overall, our first experience of running an online conference was successful. We have learnt a lot through the process; such as the need to provide presenters with support and reassurance regarding the technology, the importance of building in enough breaks for participants to have some time away from their screens and the value of having a clear website with simple joining instructions. Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive one participant commented that it was, Thoroughly interesting and applicable!”

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