Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Event report: Map my programme

Image from wili_hybrid, under a CC
Attribution-NonCommercial license
Yesterday, I attended an HEA event at the fabulous campus of the University of Greenwich entitled 'Visualising the holistic assessment experience – tools to support effective design', which although a bit of a mouthful was actually a great introduction to their workshop-based approach to mapping and understanding the role of assessment within academic programmes.

The heart of the project seemed to be about improving students' experiences of learning within a programme.  So often it can be a fragmented course-focused journey where the lumps of clashing assessments and missed opportunities for making connections between academic skills rear their heads all too frequently.  The consequence of this, as speakers from the University of Greenwich and Bucks New University testified, is that students' confidence in their learning and progress is damaged.  After all, if you're not getting timely feedback then how do you know that you're doing the right thing?  If you have four assignments due in all at once, how can you feed what you've learned from one assessment into the next?  A mistake in referencing in one assignment will result in being penalised across all four - there's just no opportunity to take on board and use the feedback given. Equally, because course leaders are focusing just on their course, they're leaving it to students to spot the connections between one course and another across the programme - whereas if this had been part of the design procress, the connections could have been flagged and strengthened.

So... the result of these issues is a need to pull out from considering the course perspective and see how the programme fits together for the student - and it's here that mapping assessments comes in.  What they're doing at Greenwich is to use Google-based tools to do this.  Since we have Google Apps here at the University of Sheffield, this makes this an interesting proposition because the need to create any additional accounts etc is removed as it's already integrated into our practices.  They're using Google Motion Chart, Gauges and TreeMapGViz to visualise the data entered into a spreadsheet and it does a good job of showing the consequences of assessment / curriculum design decisions across the whole programme.

Looking at programmes in this holistic way - plotting the types of assessment, weights of assessment etc against the academic calendar - allows programme teams to spot those clashing deadlines, explore whether they're adequately preparing students for the range of assessment types presented, see if assessment is too heavily skewed to a particular type and even consider redesigning assessment to alleviate points of stress (for both students and the staff managing marking workloads).  They can also use the opportunity to make concrete the connections between assessments across different courses.  There's an example at which is worth seeing as watching the programme unfold is quite revealing - the larger the circle the greater the weight of assessment, different colours translate to different types of assessment.

Imagine doing this for your own course / programme?  What would that reveal?  What changes would you need to make?  What is the experience of assessment / feedback really like for students?  One of the interesting points was that by looking at an assessment-led curriculum in this way, it opened up the opportunity to reconsider the learning which was occurring and placed the student at the centre of those considerations.

If you fancy having a go, then a good place to begin is the Support video they've put together.  All of the information about their 'Map my Programme' project is available on a Google Site (also demonstrating how professional Google Sites' sites can look in the process) and it's particularly worth looking at the resources section and getting in touch with Greenwich using a simple form will give you the chance to try out the mapping approach for yourself.

I'm a big fan of putting things in diagramatic terms to understand the whole - and visualising assessment like this definitely appeals!


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