Speed Dating My Research!

Today was the Centre of Higher Education Practice (CHEP) ‘Festival of Innovative Practice’ held at (the very sunny) University of Ulster, Magee campus. The day was rammed full of colleagues showcasing their practices & research, and the keynote address by Professor David Nicol, Visiting Professor to CHEP, was particularly inspiring. The latter half of the morning was filled with ‘Pecha Kucha’ style presentations from those who had received CHEP Development Funding and/or Higher Education Academy Individual Development Awards in this academic year – the research speed dating begins!

Since I have received both CHEP and HEA funding (see http://colouringbetweenthelines.com) it was an intense session as this required making two presentations, but the feedback was really supportive from colleagues and a few new ideas for future collaborations born!

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Image above part of ‘Pecha Kucha’ style presentation on ‘Introducing Assessment & Feedback’ Research Project. Original background image accessed 15/06/13 http://dreamsofnaturalsurroundings.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/idea-for-wallpaper-summer-honey-comb.html

Sharing practices & research findings

I am really looking forward to sharing the findings of this research project in a practice exchange session at the 4th International Assessment in Higher Education Conference in June 2013.

The conference is a collaboration between academics working in the field of assessment and the Higher Education Academy. The event is dedicated to debating concerns and increased understanding of assessment practice within and across academic disciplines. The conference programme includes an important range of themes in assessment research and development including ‘Engaging students in assessment & feedback’, ‘Assessment for learning’ and ‘Assessment technologies’. It will provide the opportunity to share innovations, evidence-based change, reflections on practice, research and evaluative studies.

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Research Teaching Nexus

The workshop included presentations from both staff and students on their experiences and approaches to research and scholarship in art and design. By attending, I was keen to hear and discuss with colleagues where in the art and design curriculum the key principles and methodologies associated with practice-based research were taught or facilitated. More specifically I was interested in hearing directly from students about their experiences and perspectives as a result of participation. A strong thread throughout all of the presentations was the passion and commitment by all in developing mutually beneficial and respectful partnerships: something that was discussed further and at length in the afternoon group session.

Some presentations detailed collaborations and engagements with external organisations and bodies, and, interdisciplinary and inter-level working relationships on projects. Others detailed the impact on student experience when staff had used innovative and collaborative approaches with them in the delivery of teaching. While the presentations ranged widely in discipline, level and approaches the commonalities were clearly evident. The meaningful involvement of students as partners in exploring notions of research and scholarship within the curriculum can not only resonate in innovative outcomes, but also serve to break down barriers between student and teacher. This was further evident in the presentations themselves (which I feel had the greatest impact) when students talked about their preconceptions of staff, learning, their role and how these had been altered by their involvement with staff on projects.

There was much discussion both over lunch and in the afternoon group discussion session as to what were the key components for successful and meaningful engagements. Collectively, and maybe not that surprisingly the foundation of the ‘relationship’ was agreed as key. Three main components were common across all discourses: 1. Building and re/defining boundaries and roles were essential – recognizing what each stakeholder required and needed was vital. 2. Flexible Environment – the ability to arrange or alter environments, and / or create opportunities to facilitate interactions. (Effectively demonstrated during one of the presentations were all attendees had to alter the room – inclusive of re-carpeting it!). 3. Language – communication to build sharing, shared understanding and consensus. Confidence and trust, building a sense of belonging and that students felt valued were also listed as key components.

It is important to encourage debate and discussion, in particular with relation to involving students as key partners in learning innovations and research based approaches to both discipline specific and pedagogic strategies.  Sharing information on the impact this approach has had on staff and student experiences within and across institutions will hopefully open discussions about future approaches and innovations possible.

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2013 Conference on Learning

Great news! I have been selected to present a paper on this project at the ’20th International Conference on Learning’, University of the Aegean, Rhodes, Greece in July 2013. My paper ‘Introducing Assessment and Feedback: A Framework for Engagement, Empowerment and Inclusion’ will discuss the impacts of a structured framework of engagement with students in their first year of tertiary study on their attitudes towards assessment and feedback and its role within their learning journey.

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Focus on Feedback

‘Focus on Feedback’ is a helpful introductory guide produced by the University of Ulster’s Students Union. For students, it summarises assessment and feedback simply. For lecturers, it can be used in support of course/ module induction activities. Within my own course we have made links to it through the digital course handbook and within the ‘What is Assessment?’ workshop.

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Introducing Assessment & Feedback

I have created a visual diagram of this research project’s framework which will be accessible soon via the link on the ‘Resources’ section of this website. This diagram aims to illustrate some of the means by which feedback is used as a key learning tool throughout a programme of study and also how perceptions and understandings of the role of assessment are informed and challenged.

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Developing a New Perspective on Feedback

We all use and need feedback throughout every aspect of our lives. In its various facets, feedback can alter behaviours and perceptions. Within tertiary education its role is vital to the successful learning of our students. While the focus of the article does not relate specifically to tertiary education there is much to consider from the exemplars listed. Wiggins calls us to re-examine our performance as educators within the learning environment and how we might utilise feedback more effectively as a key learning tool throughout a programme of learning. In this article, published in the September 2012 edition of ‘Educational Leadership’ (ASCD), he lists the key elements that effective feedback should include as:


Tangible & Transparent


User Friendly




As educators we need to understand not only how effective feedback should be constructed and delivered, but that opportunities by which it can be acted upon are considered in programme design.

Through this project, ‘Introducing Assessment & Feedback’, we aim to evidence such a framework of engagement. Were the role of feedback is instrumental in the learning process and indeed becomes a key teaching tool.

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A Student View

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The impact of the National Student Survey on institutional directives, delivery of learning and the student experience is arguably as significant as it is variable across disciplines and institutions; see the THE article and readers comments for illustration. It is crucial that our students are not only introduced to the practices and customs of their discipline area in a meaningful way but that they have a positive and engaging experience within the tertiary learning environment.

It is imperative that the transition from prior learning experiences to tertiary study is recognized by  staff  as  instrumental  in  ensuring  students’ future success and retention on programmes of study. Some students find this transition challenging, the ramifications of not addressing this effectively is illustrated in module statistics and programme retention rates. Worryingly if the constructs of this new learning environment remain unclear to the student throughout their period of undergraduate study the National Student Survey can serve to clearly evidence this. It provides students with an opportunity to present back to the institution, individual teaching teams and the wider public how they feel their learning journey may have been impeded due to a lack of engagement or provision of opportunities to dispel misunderstandings.

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