Blackboard Midlands User Group meet. Part 2: The assessment handler.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Blackboard have developed a plug in to handle assessments based on institutional procedures for managing assessments, as opposed to a system that handles assessments the way Blackboard thinks they should be handled. It was designed in conjunction with Sheffield Hallam University, partly in response to the NSS findings about student dissatisfaction with the rate at which they received feedback on their assessments. The tool is an “add on” to versions 7, 8 and 9 so we could use it, were we prepared to pay for it.

The procedure for creating the assessment is much the same as it is now, except that there is another option in the drop down list on the action bar – in the demo version this was called SHU assessment, although if we were to use it we could call it what we liked. “Lincoln Assessment would seem favourite!  (This was in version 8 which we use – they didn’t show it in the new interface for version 9). Once  you have clicked the go button, you add the title, brief and attach any files much as you do now, but there are some additional features. You can describe the assignment as a “group” or an “individual” assignment, although I didn’t see that this gave any additional functionality beyond a description (Could be that they didn’t demo it). You also have the opportunity to designate a physical hand in point, so the tool can be used to record and publicise assignments, but you don’t have to submit them on-line. Quite why you couldn’t just write that in the description field wasn’t made clear. The really interesting bit was in a feature called the “file rename pattern”. Essentially this allows you to change the way the grade centre records the submissions. Most obviously it facilitates anonymous marking because you are asked if you want to alter the students name to say, an enrolment number. Of course anonymity here does depend rather on the institutional definition of anonymity, and there is an option to generate a random string of numbers. I asked if you could turn anonymity on and off at will, which would be a rather obvious weakness, but I have to say that my question was deflected (OK, they didn’t answer) and I didn’t get chance to pursue it as there were many other questions.  That’s an important issue though. The Turnitin Grademark feature offers a similar level of anonymity, but if an instructor attempts to turn it off, it does allow it, but they have to enter a reason why they’re turning it off, and they can’t then turn it back on again.

An additional feature, although one I didn’t quite see the point of was that you could set limits to the number of files that a student uploaded to any assessment, and you could also set a maximum disk size for assessments. I suppose that it would be useful if you’re trying to teach students to manage file sized properly (Which would be no bad thing, come to think of it), but I couldn’t help thinking you’d be making a bit of a rod for your own back if you have plenty of space.

Completing (i.e. submitting) the assignment is much as it is now, except that students now get a digital receipt for their submission via e-mail, which provoked a debate among delegates about how worthwhile this is. My own view is that it’s fine, provided students have the option to turn it off if they don’t want it.  There are a few extra tools for grading the assignment now. An instructor has the option to select files and download them into a zip file which also includes a spreadsheet with all the students’s details. Once the work has been marked the instructor can zip them back up, along with the spreadsheet, (into which marks have been entered) and re-upload them into the gradebook.  This sounds pretty much like what our computing department have been asking for for a while, so it may be worth investigating this tool further. (I wouldn’t put too much trust in a demonstration).

Effective practice in a digital age

Just finished reading the eponymous JISC report above, and didn’t want to let it go without making a few reflective notes.

I think what stands out for me is just how much technology is going to change HE over the next few years. It’s not exactly news that the old transmission model of learning has been on the ropes for a few years now (although I wonder how far that perception has spread outside educational circles.) The case studies featured in the report show how the influence of what I am calling “reputational assessment” (but only because I can’t think of a better phrase) is growing. I don’t think it’ll be enough to have a 2:1 or even a first in a few years time. Students will have to expose themselves (so to speak) on the web – I think they’ll be expected to do something like I’ve done with the lifestream and web 2.0 portfolio on this blog, but on a much bigger scale. If employers are already Googling potential candidates to assess their suitability for employment, then a surely a degree classification will have rather less predictive value than the student’s public portfolio.

That means that educational providers are really going to have to get their heads around the implications of providing resources, managing this kind of activity across diverse hardware platforms (There’s an interesting aside on p.43 of the report about the importance of choice of mobile phone ownership and tarriff is to students self perceptions.)


Well, I don’t know where all the text from this went…

 But here’s what I wanted to say anyway. (If this disappears I really am going back to bed)

I’m not now going to the Bbworld 08 conference in Manchester because I am simply too ill to drive there. Which is a pity because there appeared to be some interesting looking presentations about using Bb to support assessment. This is something that does come up from time to time in Faculty teaching and learning committees (e.g. Health Life & Social Sciences the other day). We do have Turnitin’s Grademark of course, but the drawback with that is that it doesn’t really support double marking. (i.e. anonymous marking). Or, if it does, I haven’t found out how yet. I did dream up a baroque routine where students’ work could be submitted to different tutors by admin staff, but technology is supposed to make life simpler, so I haven’t mentioned it yet.

Leads to an interesting reflection on technology in learning though – it very rarely seems to automate a practice in its entirety – certainly some aspects of a process are very well automated – but human beings being what they are, there’s always some other aspect that they want to cling to that the technology doesn’t cover. So our job is really about changing perspectives, not teaching which buttons to press.