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Windsor AL staff development conference

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Wednesday, 25 Oct 2017, 11:51

In June 2017 I attended the Heathrow and Windsor staff development event. Like other events that are run by the AL support and professional development (ALSPD) team, this was a residential event, which meant an overnight stay. The evening comprised of a meal and an opportunity to network with fellow associate lecturers and to participate in a number of activities that allowed us to share practice.


The main conference day comprised of a faculty specific sessions followed by two cross-faculty AL development sessions that everyone could choose from. There appeared to be a good mix of presentations, which included a talk about professional recognition (which relate to fellowship of the Higher Education Academy), updates about a new teaching tool called Adobe Connect, and how to apply for new associate lecturer vacancies.

The faculty session began with a short talk about a professional development initiative called By ALs For ALs (which I hope to blog about later at some point). This was followed by a breakout into different rooms depending upon the ‘schools’ that tutors were affiliated to.

I led the School of Computing and Communications session, where I shared a number of updates (thanks to slides that were prepared by the head of school). Key points included plans for the updates to the Group Tuition Policy, and the recruitment for new modules. In my school, two new modules are: TM111 and TM112, which are new introduction to computing modules, replacing a larger 60 point module.

Workshop: delivering excellent correspondence tuition quickly

In the afternoon, I facilitated two cross faculty workshop sessions which had the title: Delivering excellent correspondence tuition quickly: is it possible and how do we do it? This session had a big and deliberately provocative title, and relates to a subject that is really important to me: I’m very mindful of the importance of delivering effective correspondence tuition.

Here is the abstract of the session: Correspondence tuition takes a lot of time. Delivering excellent correspondence tuition is both an art and a challenge, but how we can try to deliver excellent correspondence quickly? This session is open to anyone in any faculty and is all about sharing experiences and uncovering correspondence tuition techniques to make things easier for ourselves. If you are a new tutor and would like to learn some useful tips and techniques, then do come along! If you are an experienced tutor and would like to share your experience with others, you will be especially welcome too! You will hopefully come away with an armoury of techniques that you can apply with your next TMA. An outcome of the session will be a useful resource that will be shared to everyone after the AL conference.

To prepare for the session, I wrote a PowerPoint presentation. I also designed the session to be as interactive as possible since I felt that I wouldn’t have all of the answers, and that it was important to listen to the views of tutors. To give a feel for the session, here is a quick summary of all the slides that I had prepared.

Summary of session presentation

After a quick introduction, I asked a series of questions to elicit thoughts about how to define excellent correspondence:  What do you think is important? What should be included? What tone should you adopt? What really matters in your subject or module? Where does feedforward go?, and Where does feedback go?

Next up was a slide that described some research by a former colleague called Mirabelle Walker, who wrote a paper entitled ‘An investigation into written comments on assignments: do students find them usable?’ This paper was an OU study which conducted an analysis of over 3000 comments on 106 assignments in 3 modules. Different comment types were identified: content, skills development, motivating (and demotivating!), mention of future study, references to resources.

Some research

A key factor was depth of comments: indication of a problem, correction of a problem, correction along with an explanation. .Motivating comments offered identification, amplification relating to the praise, explanation as to why something is good. In terms of the analysis, these came out as indication (33.3%), amplication (56.1%), explanation (10.6%). Another type of comment was skills development comments, where were analysed as follows: indication (7.7%), correction (78.8%), explanation (13.5%)

A key point that I had on the slide was the comments aimed to bridge gaps of understanding, i.e. they are intended to move things along. I also posed a question to everyone: is there anything that your module team can help with? The implication of this is: if there is something that a tutor think that a module team can help with, then it is really important to get in touch and to let them know.


For the next bit of the slide, I presented a set of questions across two slides. The first slide had the title: How do you do your correspondence teaching? The questions were: Where do you do your marking? What do you do before you start? Do you have a routine? If so, what is it? Do you have a strategy or an approach?, and What do you tell your students?

The second slide had the title: Doing things quickly… or using time efficiently. It had three key questions: (1) What would be your biggest tip for a new tutor? (2) What would be your biggest tip for a fellow tutor? (3) What would you put in a resource for a tutor?


Towards the end of the session, I shared set of eleven personal marking tips and opinions. The idea of sharing these personal views was to consolidate all the discussions; the tips and any differences in opinions about them could facilitate further discussions. 

My marking tips were: (1) check on the tutor forum to see what other tutors are saying, and whether other tutors have any issues with the scripts that students have submitted, (2) create a TMA summary template using comments that have been given to a student as a part of an earlier TMA, similarly (3) take time to look at the previous TMA (PT3) summaries. (4) to ensure consistency, mark a question at a time (unless your module assessment structure suggests it might be easier doing something different) (5) use a computer that has multiple screens; this way you can see different views of the work more easily. (6) don’t agonise over individual marks; use your marking instincts and commit to something; you’ll invariably be right.(7) when giving feedback, explain why things are assessed (what is it assessing) (8) offer pointers beyond boundaries of the module; this may help students to understand the assessment structure. (9) Proactively tell students how marking are going either by email, or by a forum, or both! (10) Always praise effort, not the score. And finally, (11) if it is apparent that a student is having real problems, you can always recommend running a special session.

Discussion summary

During each of the two workshops, I captured some of the key discussion points by making notes on a flipchart. What follows is a brief summary of some of the main points captured from each of the two groups.

Group one: excellent correspondence tuition can mean timeliness, i.e. returning things quickly so the students can benefit from the feedback. Sign posting is considered to be important, as is being specific. It is important to acknowledge effort, and to stretch students. It is also important to manage their expectations. 

An interesting approach is to ask them leading questions, or to present a series of questions. It is useful for tutor to do some monitoring (to help with module quality control). Feedback should be personalised, and should be concise and precise. Use positive language. Other thoughts included defining what is meant by learning success, or setting a learning goal for the future. Finally, use the KISS principle, which means: keep it simple. Also use a ‘feedback sandwich approach’ that emphasises the positive.

Group two: the feedback should be personalised for the needs of students, so it can help them to progress. Feedback should be detailed, but not too detailed. It is also (of course) important that tutors follow the marking notes (and refer to the learning outcomes) that have been provided by the module team. Offer students some priorities in terms of things to work on. As well as be encouraging, give students three (positive) points of advice, and offer signposts to the things that they can do to improve.

Also, do contact the students if we need to. Offer pointers to encourage them to look forward to different parts of a module and explain how the different parts are connected together. In terms of tone, emphasise what needs to be done to move forward. Be professional, and also do comment on study skills, such as referencing. Explain module ideas and correct terminology. Offer feedforward comments with reference to the final assessment and accompanying learning outcomes.

The second group also had some very practical suggestions: tutors should encourage students to become familiar with the assignment submission process by submitting a dummy eTMA. Another point was about the use of discussion forums to share information (and, perhaps, even notes that relate to the module). 


There was a lot of discussion that took place during both of the two workshop sessions that I facilitated. These notes are drawn from the plenary sessions that I ran. Another thought is that the points that I have presented here are, of course, influenced by my own experiences as a tutor. Different tutors at the same sessions may have come away with a very different view about what was discussed, and that is something that is okay: every time we go to one of these professional development sessions, invariably we pick up something new.

The biggest thing that I have, personally, taken away from the session is the thought of: ‘offer the students three key points when you give them feedback; offering more than three points has the risk of overloading them’. This comment relates to the assessment summaries which are used to offer feed-forward guidance, rather than feedback which is directly left on a student’s script. This is a thought that I have thoroughly taken on board within my own practice as a tutor on a Computing and IT project module.

I came away with another thought: I felt that the use of Mirabelle’s research really helped to contextualise and explain our academic practice. This got me thinking: perhaps I could do a literature review of research that relates to correspondence tuition. Whilst I certainly could do that (I’ve made a note!), there are other things that I need to get on with. One of those things is a summary of another professional development event that was held in Leeds.

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Embedding Self and Peer Assessment and Feedback in Practice - A Principles-Based and Technology-Enabled Approach

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Friday, 18 May 2018, 09:06

The first HEA discipline workshop of the year, entitled Embedding Self and Peer Assessment and Feedback in Practice (HEA events page) was held at the University of Ulster on 9 March 2012.  This blog post represents my own reflections of the event.  I do hope they are useful to either the delegates who were there, or anyone else who accidentally stumbles across these notes.


Denise McAlister, Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Ulster introduced the day by emphasising the importance of feedback and how it plays a central role in teaching and learning.  The student experience, it was argued, is significant affected by the provision and quality of feedback.  Denise raised a number of challenges: how pedagogic design can offer opportunities for feedback.  The opportunities have to be balanced with the potential risk of over-assessment.  She also raised concerns about group assessment, particularly when it comes to transparency.  It is therefore a necessity, of course, to provide robust processes to ensure that students are treated fairly and equally irrespective of the assessment method (or methods) that an institution may adopt.


The first main presentation of the day was by Alan Masson, Head of Technology Facilitated Learning at the University of Ulster.  Alan's presentation was entitled 'Ulster Principles of Assessment and Feedback in learning, background and their use in promoting learning technologies'.  Alan made the point that assessment and feedback is a key part of the student experience; it is an issue that affects student retention and achievement, module and course evaluation and the wider public perceptions of an institution.  Alan mentioned something called the REAP principles (REAP website, PDF). 

Alan went onto summarise a set of seven principles that Ulster use.  These were (in essence): clarify good performance, encourage time and effort, deliver high quality feedback, provide opportunities to act on feedback, positive encouragement, develop self-assessment and reflection, and encourage interaction and dialog.  More information about these principles can be seen by visiting the University of Ulster Assessment and Feedback website.  During his presentation, Alan also directed us to something called the SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy, which was something I had not heard of before.

The second presentation of the day was by Rebecca Strachan, Northumbria University.  Rebecca's presentation was entitled 'Peer Assessment for Formative Feedback - it's Good for You'.  Rebecca introduced us to something called the Learning Pyramid, from the National Training Laboratories, which emphasises the notion that highest levels of retention (or perhaps understanding?) may arise when one student is asked to teach something to someone else.  We were also directed to the Ripples model of learning (Phil Race's website) which presents 'seven factors underpinning successful learning'.

Rebecca presented a number of challenges regarding the subject of formative peer assessment.  It is necessary to provide a motivation for the students, define the rules of engagement, and implement a system where by the tutor or instructor could offer (or provide) a moderation process.  Finally, it was considered that the process of providing feedback is as useful as the feedback itself.

Two presentations about WebPA followed.  WebPA is a web-based peer assessment tool that was developed at Loughborough University and was funded by JISC, building on earlier work.  Keith Pond presented an outline of the WebPA system through his presentation 'WebPA - Multi-disciplinary peer-mark moderation of group work'.  This was complemented by presentation about teaching practice by Neil Gordon, entitled 'Experiences and practice of using WebPA to support self and peer-assessment in teaching'. 

What I liked about Keith's presentation was the summary of the history of the project and particularly the emphasis on feedforward comments (i.e. comments to help future performance, as opposed to reflections based on existing work that has been completed).   What I liked about Neil's presentation was that he emphasised the importance of group work for software projects, speaking to an important industrial perspective that can be easily lost.    More information about WebPA can, of course, be found by visiting the WebPA project website which is hosted at Loughborough.

The final subject specific presentation of the day was by Luke Chen who compared student perceptions of self and peer assessment by using two case studies: a masters module (advanced web technologies) and a undergraduate module (advanced interactive programming).  One approach used Blackboard whilst the other used a paper based system.

Student voices

A couple of weeks ago I attended an inclusive learning conference at the Open University.  One themes that struck me from the conference was the importance of the student voice and the role that it can have in helping to inform educational practice.  It was great to see that student voices (or student views) were also brought to the fore at this workshop.

Following on from Luke's earlier presentation, Steven McComb, a postgraduate student, gave his reflections on peer assessment.  This was followed by a presentation by Tanya Fisher, a final year interactive multimedia design student, who also volunteered useful reflections.  It was great to hear such positive assessments of the assessment process.


After lunch, we had the opportunity to participate in a curriculum design activity that was based on the JISC funded Viewpoints project (University of Ulster).  We were asked to tools from the Viewpoints project to consider: standards, best practices, assessment and feedback principles, implementation ideas and the role of technologies.

The tools we were given comprised of a large laminated sheet which represented an empty module, and cards that we could stick to various parts of the module.  I interpreted the tool to enable curriculum designers to consider different alternatives or to help to facilitate communication between different designers.

Although we didn't get much time to play with the tools, the use of cards which encapsulate aspects of curriculum design as a way to facilitate design of modules is one that is compelling. 

HEA presentation

The closing presentation of the day was by Mark Ratcliffe, Discipline Lead for Computing at the Higher Education Academy.  Mark spoke briefly about the various workshops that were scheduled throughout the year and also told us about the different funding opportunities that were open to individuals as well as institutions.  Opportunities range from small grants to enable delegates to travel to workshops through to large multi-institution collaborative projects.  More information can, of course, be found by having a dig around in the HEA website, or by contacting the HEA directly.


Feedback is a really important subject.  My own personal view is that it is something that takes a lot of skill and experience to do really well.  One thing that we can every easily overlook is the feelings that our students experience as they receive their assignments or exam results.  We need to be mindful of presenting encouragement to ensure that learners are in the right frame of mind to accept any future altering feedback that we may take time to compose and present.  Peer assessment is one way to enable learners to develop critical thinking skills whilst at the same time enabling students to engage with the concepts and theories that may be the subject of an assessment.

Pedagogy, however, remains very important.  Peer assessment, in my opinion, is likely to be an especially powerful tool if it is used in subjects where having the skills to constructively criticise is especially valued.  During the workshop, the use of group work within software teams was something that was mentioned.  Peer assessment is, of course, an invaluable tool in creative subjects, such as design.

All in all, a useful and successful workshop.  Thanks Ulster!

Before I go, I have to confess that this was my first trip to Belfast and I really enjoyed it.  One of my regrets is not having taken the opportunity to take more to explore the city and the surrounding area a bit more.  Heading home to London I made a personal 'note to self' that I am most definitely going to return and do exactly that.

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