17th Annual Blackboard Users Conference: “Ticked Off: Towards Better Assessment & Feedback”, Durham, 5-6th January

On 5th and 6th January, Sara Marsham and I headed to Durham Business School for the 17th Annual Blackboard Users Conference to present a workshop that sought to encourage educators to use (more) electronic marking and suggested GradeMark (part of the TurnItIn suite) as a tool to do so.  The conference attracts a mixed audience of learning technologists, librarians, administrators and academics from around the UK and further afield as well as a large number of Blackboard employees, both repeat and first time attendees.

The conference opened with a keynote session delivered by Dr Susie Schofield on “Translating evidence-based principles to improved feedback practices” using the “interACT” study she has been involved in as a case study. We had heard Susie speak about this previously as we invited her to a HEA-funded workshop on electronic assessment we hosted in Newcastle in 2013.  Susie made the point that students can avoid bad teaching through self-study but cannot avoid bad assessment, even though new lecturers are (generally) required to attend courses on teaching but not on setting assessment.  She emphasised that students must be aware of what aspect of a task they are being assessed on; is it the most creative solution, the most accurate, etc.

Our session took place after lunch on the first day. It was well attended and all the IT logistics from both Durham and Newcastle worked perfectly!  The first day was rounded off by a conference meal at Durham Castle, the former palace of the Bishop of Durham and the place where students of University College eat their meals every day.


The second day started with the second keynote from Alan Masson from Blackboard on “Better Assessment & Feedback: The Blackboard Perspective”. Throughout the conference we attended a number of talks.  Highlights included Patrick Viney from Northumbria University, who discussed the management of 800+ undergraduate Business School student projects using PebblePad which seemed an interesting tool, especially as both Sara and I are Module Leaders for research project modules.  Emma Mayhew from the University of Reading described using short personal capture videos to make dynamic screencast videos on all aspects of assessment and feedback based on the knowledge that a visual stimulus aids retention of information.  This gave us food for thought and something to potentially implement as part of our electronic marking and feedback project.  Chris Graham and Christian Lawson-Perfect from the School of Mathematics and Statistics at Newcastle University presented on the Numbas software using the example of how they supported Stage 1 Psychology students with their numeracy skills.

Overall it was a very worthwhile conference with a friendly and welcoming audience and organising committee. Sara and I are happy to chat with any colleagues would like to know more about using GradeMark or marking rubrics.  Do you use electronic marking in your practice?  What benefits has this brought over paper-based marking?

Slide can be found here: http://www.slideshare.net/alisongraham15

Alison Graham

School of Biology, Newcastle University