Transforming Grading And Assessment
Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is one of the UK’s largest universities with over 33,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across five campuses. The university weaves face-to-face and digital learning provision into all of its programmes so that students can plot their own routes through their course. In 2019/20, the university’s Nottingham Business School (NBS) digitised the laborious process that sat behind grading and assessing student work to free up staff time, provide detailed feedback for students and crate a seamless experience within the D2L Brightspace platform. The successful solution was rolled out across NBS in the 2021/22 academic year.
To Create A Leaner Process For Grading And Assessment
An integral part of the learning process is assessment, grading and giving feedback. To be effective, it should provide students with a clear understanding of their progress, clarity on if and why they have met learning criteria for the topic and pointers they can learn from to improve.
For tutors and staff, the activity needs to be efficient so that as little time as possible is spent on administrative tasks and as much as possible on education. In addition to providing grades and feedback to students, staff must also feed the grades into the student records system.
NBS had a comprehensive process for providing consistent, accurate and comprehensive grading and feedback, but it involved a number of manual stages, multiple applications and duplicate data entry.
“We used a grade matrix—a set of criteria with descriptors— in MS Word documents,” explains Graham Thomas, principal lecturer, learning and teaching manager at NBS. “Tutors entered grades and feedback into the Word files and uploaded them into the system for students. Separately, they recorded the grades in a spreadsheet.”
Module leaders would collate the 800 grades from 20 different staff into a spreadsheet. The whole process was a considerable overhead, taking up valuable staff time.
“It was quite a laborious process,” adds Graham, “with rather a large proportion of non-value add components. It wasn’t lean.”
We want our academics to focus on pedagogy and learning and teaching. Manual admin isn’t a good use of their time.Sanjay Gupta, product manager, digital technologies, NTU
A Repeatable, Digital Process
The team established a grading workflow project to address the issue and also consulted with other universities. They created a process map which identified points in the process that didn’t add value.
The focus was to use existing functionality in the NTU online workspace (NOW), based on the D2L Brightspace platform, to solve the issue for staff, course leaders and administrators.
“We looked across the platform to bring together the parts that would enable us to implement this in the most efficient way,” says Graham. “We had a concept of the templated learning room where we could copy a package to gain as many benefits across as many staff as we could.”
The team looked at rubrics in Brightspace, a set of criteria for assessing student work that supports consistent marking, clarity of grading and in-depth feedback. Central to the task was ensuring that students could see their grades and feedback all in one place.
“We also needed to export grades for moderation before they were published,” adds Graham. “Part of the lean principle is to create things only once and export that. That takes away duplicate processes and people making mistakes.”
The team developed a one-stop-shop solution that facilitates efficient tutor marking, along with comprehensive feedback for students all in one place in the Brightspace platform together with their grades. It also expedites the moderation process and grade collation.
The solution draws on rubrics functionality and the Dropbox and Assignments tools within Brightspace and a grade export utility, developed within Brightspace by another university. The templated solution meant the team developed once only and applied it multiple times to meet the requirements of all stakeholders.
One such stakeholder was the external examiner. Sanjay Gupta, product manager, digital technologies at NTU, set about creating an examiner learning room in NOW to provide access to student submissions, feedback, rubrics and grades. Sanjay worked with the team at D2L who came up with a solution that configured the examiner’s role to facilitate this.
The custom grade export solution is only possible using the API. That’s a core element so it’s a good thing the Brightspace platform has such a flexible and rich API.Sanjay Gupta, product manager, digital technologies, NTU
Huge Time Savings And A Better Experience
The new grading and assessment approach that the team developed and which functions within Brightspace, has transformed what was a laborious and repetitive process that took up large amounts of valuable staff time.
Non-value add steps in grading and assessment that took up 7-10% of total tutor time were reduced to 2-3%. The 33-stage process that involved eight applications has been reduced to a ten-stage process using just two applications. Module leader time spent in grade collation and moderation was reduced by 50 to 75%.
Setup for a tutor is now just editing a rubric, adding start, end and due dates, and making a folder visible. Just a handful of parameters to set compared to creating these things from scratch and then trying to work out how to link them together.”Graham Thomas, principal lecturer, learning and teaching manager, NBS
An additional benefit was gained in the process that supports NBS’ status as an accredited Business School. The assurance of learning process requires a check on the proportion of students achieving above a certain grade against criteria. Previously, this was done by taking a sample of students, looking at the rubric, finding the grades and putting them into spreadsheets.
“It was another laborious process,” says Graham. “Now we have cohort statistics that we don’t have to worry about checking. We don’t have to sample; it’s all just there.”
Grading and assessment is now a better experience for both staff and students. The solution had such an impact that staff came forward, unprompted, to offer positive feedback. One tutor stated: “It is simply wonderful! It has cut out so much ‘paperwork’ and admin, both from a tutor’s perspective and for the module leader” whilst another cited the “brilliant, time-saving change” and still another commended the “huge step forward.”
NBS is now rolling the rubrics grade solution out across all 800 learning rooms and 6,000 students. Being in template form, the solution is repeatable and can operate at scale as it takes only a few minutes to implement for each additional module.
Throughout, the University has valued support from D2L, in particular from the technical account manager who connected the team with the university that had developed the grade export utility. Through this D2L Brightspace community, Sanjay and colleagues were able to repurpose a utility to complete their solution and save them time.
NBS set out to save staff time and create a better experience for tutors, staff and other stakeholders through a streamlined, digital grading and assessment process. It successfully streamlined the activity through the learning platform to improve efficiency and accuracy and bring marking and feedback into the same online space where learning takes place. Drawing on its successful partnership with D2L, the NBS has succeeded in transforming grading and assessment and delivering impressive results.