Background and context
Bedford College is a general FE College with a turnover in the region of £35 million per year it is around the 50th largest college in the UK with c.5,000 full-time and c.10,000 part-time students. It has three main campuses: Bedford town centre – general FE and vocational education, a sixth form college and Shuttleworth College – land-based and animal science.
The College has created an assessment management tool called Grade Tracker as a Moodle extension that is freely available for other colleges to use.
The College created the tool to solve two main problems:
- Many FE level qualifications have very complex structures in terms of assessment criteria  and whilst there are commercial tools that deal with recording grades, these systems tend not to have functionality for configuring, accepting and tracking on-line assignments.
- The College merged with Shuttleworth College in 2009 and there was a situation whereby each department had its own processes for tracking student progress – these often involved use of spreadsheets (with no audit trail) and the information was not accessible to students.
The main driver was therefore improving quality and enhancing learning rather than any staff time or cost savings.
The College began development of the Grade Tracker tool in 2009 and managed to replicate what the spreadsheets did to a common standard and using a shared tool that was accessible to students. The Grade Tracker tool now allows the College to configure and track progress against, BTEC, C&G and A/AS Level qualifications in a single system that is fully integrated with Moodle.
When setting on-line assessments, teachers can specify the units and criteria evidenced in the assessment and learner tracking grids are automatically updated on submission (or passing of deadline).
The system also displays predicted grades based on performance within units against minimum targets calculated from prior learning and ALPs weightings and aspirational targets set following a dialogue between learner and tutor. Teachers can also export/import offline marking spreadsheets that support swift updating of tracking grids and easy provision of feedback at criterion level.
On line assignments within Moodle and other Moodle activities that generate marks for the Moodle Gradebook can be mapped onto specific criteria from qualification units. The tracking grids are automatically updated when these activities are satisfactorily completed. If a student misses a deadline this is also recorded. For BTEC and C&G qualifications, a criterion is either achieved or not achieved: guidelines from the awarding body say how it should be judged. There is therefore no scoring rubric just a pass/fail mark at the discretion of teaching staff. Students can however see the unit definition.
Recent developments include incorporation of a new tool so that staff can download the criteria and work off-line on a spreadsheet then can upload the spreadsheet for all of the students in one go. This has proved very popular. Other staff use the feedback sheets in Moodle and Turnitin is used for all HE and level 3 provision.
There are a range of tools that can be used for feedback. Grade Tracker makes external verification very easy as all information can be viewed/printed from Moodle. External verifiers like to see that feedback has been provided at criterion level so comments can be added against each criterion. A request for students to be able to add their own comments is an example of good practice that has been mentioned by external verifiers.
The College undertakes audits of staff marking for quality purposes and Grade Tracker is now being used to produce monthly reports for this purpose.
The College is heavily involved with its local Jisc Regional Support Centre (RSC) and through this network other colleges got to hear about the tool and were keen to use it. There was a problem in that the original tool had been coded in a way that was unique to how Moodle 1.9 was configured at Bedford College so Jisc provided funding for the College to work with a range of partners to develop a community release. The College took a very open approach to the development process and received feedback from a much wider group than the formal partners. So far the product is in large scale use in about 10 to 12 colleges and they are only just beginning to publicise its availability more widely.
Students are very keen on Grade Tracker and they put pressure on staff to keep it up-to-date. Students also share and compare their feedback and a favourable OFSTED view was informed by student feedback.
Assessors have found that students are more aware of deadlines when all of their assignments are set up in Moodle (even if something cannot be submitted online e.g. dance and drama it can be set up as an offline assessment). There are therefore benefits in terms of improving self-directed learning.
The College recognises that the use of predicted grades could have negative consequences if not used appropriately and this fits into a broad process of scaffolding support for learning that also involves use of an e-PLP (personal learning plan) and a personal tutoring system. The e-PLP is a modular tool and a single port of call for information from any member of the teaching team so that attendance and punctuality, tutorial records, target destinations, general comments, assessments calendar, timetable, additional support records can all be seen in one place. All students have a personal tutor who sits down with the student and their e-PLP (personal learning plan). Each student has a minimum target grade and the tutor also sets an aspirational grade with them.
The student and staff view is exactly the same in the e-PLP. Previously they did have some information that was only visible to the teaching team but the College was not comfortable that this wasn’t visible to the student. They want the student to be aware of risk factors such as a fall in attendance and submission to help with the management of their own learning.
Roy Currie, Director of Information and Learning Technologies, told us: ‘We had to produce systems that were acceptable to the teaching staff otherwise they would vote with their feet. Although we did make a lot of effort to gain buy-in in the first instance the speed of take-up was nonetheless surprising.‘
The College welcomes new users of the system. You can find out more by visiting the Moodle Grades website or by contacting Roy Currie: firstname.lastname@example.org
City and Guilds and BTEC awards are very complex. Qualifications at different levels made up of a series of units with different topics. Each unit is worth a certain number of credits and each unit has performance criteria. There may be up to 10 pass criteria per unit plus 3 to 4 merit criteria and 2 or 3 additional criteria for a distinction. There is thus a matrix with different numbers of criteria against each. Students may be studying c.20 units altogether. There can either be a 1:1 or a 1:many relationship between individual assignments and criteria.
As an example the extended diploma in horse management is BTEC level 3 and consists of 480 credits over two years. This amounts to 20 units. The first unit is understand and promote animal health: this has 12 pass criteria, four merit criteria and three distinction pass criterion one = describe the indicators of good and ill health in horses. Pass criterion 2 = describe the health checks that should be routinely carried out. The specification from the awarding bodies includes guidance to staff as to how pass or fail should be judged.