Bury College

Digital Assessment


Over the past 4 years there has been a change in the focus of learners assessment.  Partly in response to the Bury College’s sustainability policy and associated targets (paper usage, archiving), learner voice actions and more recently in response to the enforced requirements of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a significant shift in how tutors set and marked assessments, and how learners wanted to be assessed and their progress recorded. 

The mixture of face to face, hybrid and remote delivery, coupled with an integrated blended learning curriculum model, created an environment in which the traditional assessment methodology was challenged and ultimately required to develop in light of unusual circumstances.  However, this new range of educational delivery models presented an excellent opportunity to experiment with new strategies, new methods, new technology and new standards to accommodate and accompany these new conditions.

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Overview of supported experiments

Adrian Emerson (Head of Digital Learning & Resources) gives a short overview of supported experiments on digital assessment at Bury College.

Simon Taylor (Digital Learning Coach) explains how support and training on digital tools have impacted teaching, learning and assessment at Bury College.

Chris Livesey (Digital and Blended Learning Coach) discusses supported experiments involving Canvas, Office 365 and Planet eStream.

Lauren Glossop (Digital Learning Coach) discusses supported experiments using Canvas, Planet eStream and Office 365 to support digital assessment.

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What were the challenges?

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown periods, there were a number of initiatives striving to move teaching, learning and assessment into a more digital and eLearning focus.

Multi-layered tutor enthusiasm, skills, knowledge and confidence coupled with unknown or little used or little appreciated software platforms, and a reluctance to move away from tried and tested delivery methods, presented numerous challenges to implement cross-college eLearning plans and targets. 

The imposed, almost unnatural, remote and blended teaching, learning and assessment model created opportunities for many tutors, but significant barriers for others. 

There was an immediate need for training and support, confidence building and alternative ways to engage learners in subject content on platforms never used in anger before.

The Implementation

Several strands of training and support were required to help to facilitate effective TLA, in particular learner engagement and assessment. 

Determining learner understanding through engagement and assessment at all stages of their ‘learning journey’ was established through the use of existing digital platforms (Canvas VLE, Office 365 applications) in addition to a new integrated multimedia platform Planet eStream. 

Assessment strategies, using the various software platforms, were devised, promoted and tailored to subject areas, coupled with comprehensive communications, CPD and training, utilising appointed digital learning coaches to focus responsive support where required.  

The Impact

The college is now experiencing a significant uptake in online assessment utilising a number of varied digital platforms. 

Much of this has centred on assessments initiated through the Canvas VLE using the Canvas Assignments feature.   This has enabled tutors to fine tune assessment based on formative and summative structures, with the latter incorporating marking grade schemes, marking rubrics, video and audio feedback and integrated Planet eStream media content for learner assessment.  This has negated the need for paper-based assessment, marking, annotations, and grading along with the duplication associated with  referrals and resubmissions.

Learners have expressed their preference for online blended learning with particular interest in assessment.  The ease of submitting completed assignment evidence, receiving feedback, resubmitting and tracking progress have contributed to the transparency of assessment and the ease of keeping track against progress, predicted and target grades.

External examiners are granted access to learners’ assessment evidence (with the integrated features) to fully appreciate the learning and assessment experience and validity and quality of assessment.

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The Evidence of Digital Assessment

Here, we have examined a number of different assessment methods and systems using digital platforms to encompass in-class, plenary, formative and summative assessment across multiple curriculum areas and levels of study to help to advance interactive and collaborative learner journeys and progressive achievement whilst empowering learners with digital skills leading to positive destinations.

We have explored ways of ensuring that learners have opportunities to be assessed in ways so as to maximise their potential to achieve whilst minimising the disadvantages associated with criteria-driven paper-based assessment.

Future Developments: Next Steps

The momentum built up over the past 2 years, in which there was an imperative to move curriculum delivery to platforms that enabled remote and distance teaching, learning and assessment, and which provided invaluable evaluation data into digital software capabilities, must be continued for the hard work, knowledge, skills and confidence not to dissipate or be lost entirely.  We are now fully aware of what is currently possible (and practiced), but are keen to continue to explore the full potential. 

In a bid to improve further our sustainability initiatives, online and digital assessment will continue to advance our targets on paper-based assessment and paper usage.  From 15m sheets of white A4 paper 4 years ago to just under 3m for 2020-21, we are aiming to halve this again over the next academic year by setting curriculum area targets to increase online formative and summative assessment.