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Meet the 2021 BILT Associates…Sarah Allsop

The following post is from Sarah Allsop who started her BILT Associate role on the theme of Assessment and Feedback.

I am thrilled to join the BILT team of assessment and feedback Associates over the coming academic year. Assessment forms such a key part of the university processes for reviewing and projecting the students’ trajectory, but it also forms a huge part of the student experience itself.

My work as a Senior Lecturer here at Bristol is based in medical and anatomy education. Part of my work over the past five years has been working on the ‘MB21’ curriculum review for the medical programme. A core element of this was developing a culture shift around the ‘feel’ of the programme, moving the narrative from an inherently competitive to a collaborative environment. A big part of this was thinking not only about the validity, reliability and timing of assessment, but also the language used and the way we describe assessments to our students. Particularly of interest to me is how the student’s view their assessment processes; Do they see everything as hurdles they have to get over? How do they perceive success? What do they feel are the consequences of failure? Do the assessment goals take away from the pleasure of the learning journey? And what is feedback anyway?

Feedback throughout this process occurs in a huge variety of forms, and yet these are not always recognised. It may differ from what the student has experienced in other educational settings, and the more open practice of cohort level feedback can be difficult to contextualise at an individual level. The term feedback itself has even been questioned in the literature, with the term feed-forward becoming more well used to signify how the student can not only reflect on practice, but also identify ways to improve, move forward and gain confidence.

This leads onto one of the other areas I feel it is so important to develop. Having spent many years working on competency based programmes such as medicine, one of the challenges is how to differentiate competency from confidence, as it is the latter that will allow our students to flourish as they move on through the stages of their training. However, confidence can be a much harder skill to measure, as it is more difficult to define. The beauty of considering confidence is the involvement of the individual and the student journey in developing autonomy over their own trajectory towards their goals.

I believe it will be through the co-creation of new processes, new language around assessment and feedback with our students that we will start to build a successful and supportive strategy around assessment. I am really looking forward to working together with the other BILT associates and student fellows, embracing different viewpoints to promote active discussion and drive forward these new ideas.

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