Book review: Assessment, feedback and technology: contexts and case studies in Bloomsbury


The e-book Assessment, feedback and technology: contexts and case studies in Bloomsbury, co-edited by Leo Havemann and Sarah Sherman, shared through a Creative Commons licence and available for download online, explores the findings of a wide-ranging two-year research and dissemination project. The editors, experienced technology-enhanced learning practitioners, address a fundamental and important problem that requires fuller discussion in the sector. Assessment and feedback, fundamental core processes in learning, are increasingly mediated through technology as this is often cited as more efficient. However, promises of increased ease of administration, savings in staff time and an improved student experience are rarely delivered if student satisfaction surveys are to be believed. Using the Bloomsbury context as a microcosm of the sector that could inform this issue, the editors provide a useful analysis of the domain and illustrate this with a wide range of brief case studies of existing assessment and feedback and practices taken from the Bloomsbury consortium.

The three research papers that open the book provide a helpful context for this contribution to a wider discussion, focussing on:

  • The use of technology across the assessment lifecycle
  • The roles played by administrative staff in assessment processes
  • Technology-supported assessment in distance learning

They draw upon existing research published by Jisc and the HEA into assessment and feedback processes. In order to investigate in a holistic manner the existing practices at Bloomsbury colleges the editors undertook a mapping process and discovered that it provided a useful analytical tool to increase understanding of what is a complex and often discipline specific domain.

Their work in the first of these papers provides a useful insight for all stakeholders into the complexity of assessment design and is a welcome contribution to raising the level of assessment literacy for all stakeholders. The second paper explores the workflows for assessment and is informed by event participants from different institutions, thus widening the evidence base for the study. As contributors come from a range of institutional roles and contexts, the captured conversations throw light on the multi-factorial issues that make technology choices challenging for learning technologists. The interactive nature of this event is exemplary, showing how such opportunities can help dispel assumptions and bring greater clarity and mutual understanding to a complex and important area of activity. The third paper deals with assessment and feedback in distance learning courses at Bloomsbury, providing examples of a range of technological tools deployed. This reveals the importance of attention to the ergonomics of learning design. It is clear that technical tool selection for key processes such as assessment should be reviewed through collaborative investigation with students and staff if it is to keep pace with the rapidly changing realities of learning in the 21st century and be fit for purpose. This section of the book is a “must read” for all those who care about the quality of the educational experiences in UK HEIs and provides an excellent starting point for a better understanding of our own contexts.

The ensuing case studies illustrate the points raised in section 1, offering disciplinary detail through worked examples of assessment and feedback practices. They cover examples of innovative assessment approaches such as the use of blogging and e-portfolios. They also illustrate student involvement in assessment through peer feedback and the use of multimedia such as telecollaborative presentations and audio feedback. Such practices are often tricky to implement within the standard affordances of VLE tools. The template format of the case studies makes them easily accessible and provides practical information that exemplifies practice both in small group settings and at scale. These are useful scenarios and will inspire and inform practitioners and those who support them. Contact details can easily be located from each case study making it easier for follow up discussions, a practical tool for learning technologists who may be approached about available assessment techniques.

This collection is a timely read if UK HEIs are to embrace the challenges of increasing digital mediation of assessment and feedback. The increased emphasis on the role of assessment for learning (AfL) and the need for greater assessment literacy in all educational contexts require more holistic discussions, working in silos will not achieve the result needed. This collection provides a very practical starting point that could improve the quality of teaching and learning for all involved.

Teresa MacKinnon, University of Warwick

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