Simon J Cross

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Student experiences of assessment: forthcoming conference presentation

A one-day Assessment Conference will take place at the Open University on 19 January 2016. The conference will feature morning presentations, a lunchtime poster session and an afternoon of workshops and is open to all staff. I will be presenting the ‘Key Findings from the 2015 OU Student Experience of Feedback, Assessment and Revision (SEFAR) Survey’ in the morning session and also two posters during the lunchtime session.

The SEFAR Project included a student questionnaire and follow-up telephone interviews were undertaken to learn more about student attitudes and experiences of four key elements of assessment at the Open University: TMAs (Tutor marked continuous assessment), examinations, EMAs (End of module assignments) and revising for examinations. The expectation was that student experiences of different aspects of the assessment process could be compared and contrasted. 281 students responded to the questionnaire and 13 volunteered and participated in 1-hour long interviews.

The survey included questions relating to ten themes and I hope to include data from the final project report (Cross, Whitelock and Mittelmeier, 2015) relating to most, if not all, these themes:

  • Support, Guidance and Use of Resources
  • Contribution to learning
  • Time allocation and time spent
  • Assessment preparation and clarity of instructions
  • Question quality and awarded marks
  • Tutor feedback, peer feedback and collaborative assessment
  • Strategic Learning
  • Student preference for EMAs or Examinations
  • End of module assessment as motivator for learning
  • Student support for alternate forms of TMA feedback

OU Staff can access the final project report on the institutional Scholarship Exchange: Cross, S., Whitelock, D. and Mittelmeier, J. (2015). Student Experience of Feedback, Assessment and Revision (SEFAR) Project: Final Report. August 2015. Open University.


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Distance learners use of handheld devices for study

The nature of distance learning and the constantly changing patterns in the ownership and use of handheld devices makes it essential to continually monitor and review how students are using their handheld devices for study. How do patterns of ownership, adoption and use by distance learning students differ? How are study habits and learning experiences changing and how do students perceive this? Does use in study features in student decisions to purchase devices?

These questions formed the focus of a 2013 student survey undertaken by the OU’s Pedagogy of EBooks Project. A report detailing these findings is now available as an IET Research and Innovation Report. The report describes the results of an undergraduate survey which asked students how they used e-readers, tablets and smartphones for study. This represents a snapshot of the rapidly changing interaction between technology and education, and highlights issues and opportunities for Higher Education in supporting student adoption of appropriate technologies and development of effective new methods of study.

The Pedagogy of Ebooks Project began in 2012 and seeks to document, analyse and explain the changing study practices of UK distance learning students as they employ, adapt and integrate the use of new portable digital devices such as e-book readers and tablets into their learning. Data from the most recent survey in 2014 Survey is currently being written up and a 2016 survey is anticipated.

A copy of the report is freely available: Cross, S., Sharples, M. and Healing, G. (2015) E-Pedagogy of Handheld Devices 2013 Surevy: Patterns of Student Use for Learning, IET Research and Innovation Report Series IET-2015-01, ISSN: 2058-9867. Available at:


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Collaborative Learning and Assessment at the Open University (CoLAB) Project

This spring myself, Denise and Graham began work on the Collaborative Learning and Assessment (CoLAb) project. This sought to provide strategic information about the practice and effectiveness of collaborative learning and assessment at the OU and followed on from a 2014 White Paper by Whitelock and Cross (2014).

The internal report is now published and investigates three specific aspects of computer supported collaborative assessment and learning:

1. What impact does collaborative activity have on student satisfaction and pass rates?
2. What are the characteristics of effective and less effective uses of collaborative learning and assessment?
3. Do students want to see more collaborative learning, group working and peer assessment in their modules?

The first section looks at the student view on collaboration as represented by data from a question in the university’s annual student experience questionnaire  (‘Taking part in collaborative activities with other students helped me to learn’). This part of the analysis uses the ‘not applicable/not used’ option to interrogate the data in new ways and to contrast student perceptions from different discipline areas. It also outlines findings from a recent IET pass rates project. One interesting findings was the variation in use and satisfaction with collaborative assessments between subject areas.

The second question was examined by analysing fifteen modules that used collaborative learning and assessment. Eight of the case study modules were of modules where a high proportion of students felt the collaborative activities had helped them learn whilst the other seven modules had lower levels of satisfaction. Section 3 reports key findings from the analysis of the module case studies and the challenges encountered when compiling this data.

The final question used data from the recent SEFAR student survey (Student Experience of Feedback, Assessment and Revision) (Cross, Whitelock & Mittelmeier, 2015). At the request of this project, the student survey included questions about collaboration and about peer assessment.

The report concludes with a discussion, key findings and recommendations.

The final report is available to OU staff at: Cross, S., Whitelock, D., and Healing, G. (2015) Collaborative Learning and Assessment (CoLAb) Project: Final Report. September 2015. The Open University.  If you are not at the OU but are interested in our findings then please do drop me a line.

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Open badges and the leanring arc

A copy of our post about open badges and the learning arc is now archived on ORO. This briefly outlines some of our initial thinking about how and where to position our badges

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Introducing the Student Experience of Feedback, Assessment and Revision Project (SEFAR)

The purpose of the Student Experience of Feedback, Assessment and Revision (SEFAR) project is to learn more about how distance-learning undergraduate students at the Open University view the quality of the assessment and support provided by the University, and how students approach and use assessment resources. The SEFAR project was developed as a response to findings reported in a White Paper Assessment: Practice and Promise by Whitelock and Cross (2014) that found there was an institutional need to learn more about how students experience assessment.

Over the next six months the project will develop and send out a questionnaire to 2,500 students and undertake around a dozen follow-up telephone interviews. Of particular interest will be four key elements of assessment at the Open University: TMAs (Tutor marked continuous assessment assignments), sat final examinations, EMAs (end of module course work assessments) and time spent revising for examinations. For this investigation ‘revision’ and the ‘exam’ were intentionally treated as separate learning activities; a conceptual distinction made possible by taking a learning design view of student activity.

The project concludes in Summer 2015.

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