Introduction to the team at University of the Arts London

A photograph of Vikki Hill - a white woman with blonde hair in a blue shirt.

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I’m Vikki Hill, Educational Developer: Attainment (Identity and Cultural Experience) in the Academic Enhancement Team at University of the Arts London. I am the Project Lead for the QAA Collaborative Enhancement Project – Belonging through Assessment: Pipelines of Compassion.

I’ve been working in arts education for over 20 years and spent over half of this teaching young people in Further Education where relational, pastoral and wellbeing are integral to the learning experience. I came to work at UAL to lead the OfS-funded Catalyst project Creative Mindsets that aimed to develop anti-racist pedagogies and eliminate awarding differentials between home white students and home students of colour. As co-lead of the Fostering Belonging and Compassionate Pedagogy Strand of academic enhancement, I work with course teams across UAL as they reflect on pedagogies and practices and develop strategies to address racism, bias, isolation and unbelonging. I am interested in compassion as I see this as a call to action to support social justice. Gilbert states that ‘compassion means the noticing of social of physical distress to others and the commitment to reduce or prevent that distress’(Gilbert, 2017, p189). Whether this is through compassionate pedagogies or compassionate policies, creating the conditions of compassion means taking action to alleviate disadvantage. As we create a collaborative space for our three arts institutions to come together we are asking questions about our creative context – what is assessment for? what does it do? what do we want it to do? can it be compassionate?

Why is this project important to University of the Arts London?

Increasingly the call to address structural inequality has been heard across the higher education sector through global movements such as Why is my Curriculum White?, #RhodesMustFall and #BlackLivesMatter. This project brings together academic teaching staff, educational developers, quality enhancement and senior leadership – those who design and implement assessment policy – to create a space to interrogate processes and policies with students and to enhance socially just assessment practices.

Gilbert, T. (2017). When Looking is Allowed: What Compassionate Group Work Looks Like in a UK University in Gibbs, P. (ed), (2017) The Pedagogy of Compassion at the Heart of Higher Education, Cham: Springer

A photograph of Dr Emily Salines. A white woman with black hair and a black top. Emily is smiling a the camera.

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I am Dr Emily Salines. I am an Educational Developer: Academic Enhancement at UAL, working with course teams at London College of Communications to help improve student experience, attainment and retention, with a particular focus on closing awarding differentials. As part of this work, I also co-lead the Enhancing Assessment for Equity strand of the Academic Enhancement Model across all UAL colleges. 

Pedagogies of belonging and compassion offer a framework in which obstacles to equity can be interrogated and removed, to develop inclusive assessment approaches and support student success. This project is important to me because it supports an investigation on ways in which we might rethink assessment and feedback, and reframe them as sites of compassion, belonging and learning instead of instruments of sorting and judging, and sources of anxiety for students and staff. 

Photography of Liz Bunting - white woman with blonde hair and sun glasses

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I’m Liz Bunting, an Educational Developer in Academic Enhancement at UAL. My focus is supporting course teams in eliminating the university’s awarding differentials by creating reflective spaces to co-design pedagogic approaches in attainment, social justice and anti-racism.

This includes co-leading the Fostering Belonging and Compassionate Pedagogies Academic Enhancement Model strand alongside Vikki Hill, and together we publish a range of open-access teaching and learning resources on the topic, including our series of belonging themed podcasts.

My own experiences of un-belonging have driven my research interest in sense of belonging and identity, and a commitment to compassion as an ethical foundation for education. This collaboration affords an opportunity to examine assessment through a human and relational lens, and reimagine assessment policies and practices with compassion at their heart. What if assessment was centred on respect, trust and care? If we reduced power dynamics and enabled students to co-create the rules? If we fully recognised, and go some way to alleviate, the emotional labour for staff and students? By doing so, might we be able to influence student sense of belonging, and perhaps educators’ sense of belonging too?

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I’m Dr Neil Currant, Educational Developer (Reward and Recognition) at UAL.

I have been working as an educational developer for the past 16 years after a career as a school teacher. I originally started in Higher Education on a project researching the benefits of using electronic portfolios before moving into more general educational development.

My interests include learning technology, inclusion, belonging, assessment and developing the teaching practices of new lecturers and graduate teaching assistants. In my current role, I run the Introduction to Teaching in Higher Education course called Thinking Teaching.  I also support colleagues in gaining recognition for their teaching practices. My doctoral research was on the experiences of belonging for British Asian and Black students at university.

From my early days as a school teacher, I always felt that there was something wrong with educational assessment practices. Often they are mechanical, process-driven and devoid of the human touch.

In attempting to be fair, reliable and valid, assessment processes risk undermining student belonging and human connection. This project is an opportunity to think beyond traditional approach to assessment practices and bring back the social, human element.

Introduction to the team at Glasgow School of Art

A photograph of Allan Atlee. He is a white man, wearing a light blue shirt with black glasses and has fair hair.

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I am Allan Atlee, Deputy Direct Academic at Glasgow School of Art. Assessment is a cornerstone of higher education culture, structuring the experiences students and staff have of it. The recent experiences of the global pandemic have surfaced all sorts of things, perhaps most prominent are the disparities in experience of different groups in society. This has played out in education as it has in terms of health, work etc. The often competing expectations about what assessment does and is for (including QAA etc) as well as the cultural dimensions can make it hard to achieve systemic innovation. What sorts of approaches do you consider most valuable and successful in achieving change?

A photograph of Professor Vicky Gunn wearing a red face mask and a red Harris Tweed jumper. She is white with fair hair and is standing in a room.

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I am Professor Vicky Gunn, Head of Learning and Teaching at Glasgow School of Art. Lockdown in March 2020 saw shock waves run through the Art and Design higher education sector as we were forced to attend to an ‘unspacing’ of our curriculum and assessment processes: Excluded from physical learning spaces; withdrawn from the usual routines of embodied feedback in studio; thrown into a virtual horizon where assessments points seemed somehow estranged, programmes were forced to address what was the most compassionate approach we could take, whilst managing standards and quality. 

No detriment, pass/fail progression, digital submission became the tools of assessment. Digital inclusion policies, with their explicit awareness of the effect on poverty in higher education, sprung from the fallow. In effect, a revolution in assessment occurred over three months.

At the same time, conversations about quieter students finding their voice on-line, networks of support, the need to rebalance the analogue and digital aspects of our curriculum raised the prospect that assessment could be done differently and potentially more inclusively. 

The outcome to date has been – increases in both the amount of student work which needed to be taken into consideration for assessment to occur and a rapidly-upskilled-in-digital-delivery art and design academy. The next stage in this assessment revolution could be a redefinition of the academy’s preferable assessment design, implementation, and cultures through the lens of social justice.  If we opt for such a stage:

  • What would the preferable designs of assessment methods and regulations look like? 
  • How would we work with students to implement them in a manner that maintains disciplinary knowledges and wisdoms but unravels the social injustices stitched into them? 
  • And what would this do to art and design cultures longer term? Could we see a preferably more inclusive educational legacy play out in our cultural ecologies?

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

My name is Robert Mantho and I am an architect and educator. I’m Academic Development Lead for the Mackintosh School of Architecture.

This project is a great opportunity to collaborate with a group of experienced practitioners to inform teaching and learning with compassion. I believe the project extends critical discussions for me personally and will help me improve my work with students and colleagues.

Introduction to the team at Leeds Arts University

A photograph of Prof. Sam Broadhead. She is white, has red hair, is wearing glasses and is smiling.

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I am Professor Samantha Broadhead, Head of Research, at Leeds Arts University. The project’s themes are pertinent to my research interests in widening participation in arts education (particularly mature students). Early on during own learning journey I became aware of the ‘assessment for learning’ approach promoted by Dylan Wiliam where he argues that assessment has the potential to enhance learning. In particular, assessment should enhance inclusive learning.  

Professor Gregson and I wrote  in our book, Practical Wisdom and Democratic Education, about the frustration and confusion some students (from a range of institutions) experienced when trying to understand assessment processes. This impacted on their sense of belonging as they believed other students understood the ‘rules of the game’ where as to them the language of assessment was mysterious and opaque. Assessment was part of a range of practices and beliefs that constructed mature students as a pedagogised ‘other’. The students’ narratives around assessment made me wonder about the unspoken and perhaps ‘taken for granted’  conventions that govern assessment in the arts. Some students understand these implicit forms of knowledge whereas others due to their previous educational journeys and social backgrounds may read and interpret  briefs and assignments in different ways.  What unexamined biases are we reproducing through our assessment practices that do not consider the varied backgrounds and cultures of our students? This resonates with the work of Basil Bernstein on visible and invisible pedagogies. The research has led me to believe that clear, explicit and carefully crafted briefs are crucial – good for all students – and continuous dialogue about the meanings of briefs (assessment literacy) should be part of the curriculum. 

Many students and particularly mature students have complex lives outside of education, they often manage their learning while being responsible for dependants (children or aging relatives).  Unexpected events can cause students to falter in their courses and assessment requirements can add to their stress. In our research some of the students felt they were misunderstood or not listened to when they asked for flexibility around assessment activities (for example rescheduling a presentation). They asked because they were trying manage a complex set of circumstances not because they trying to gain an advantage. The work we did suggested that deadlines and lines of communication should be clear and resolved in good time so students can plan their lives alongside  their education, however there should also be some flexibility accommodated by the regulations that consider the unpredictability  of life. Maybe some principals relating to quality assessment processes could introduce a compassionate and empathic aspect to regulation?  These principals could relate to  clarity, dialogue, communication, timeliness and flexibility in assessment policies and procedures?

 At the end of the project I hope to have discovered new points of view that could change my current perspective on assessment and I am open to seeing what happens.  

Why is this project important to Leeds Arts University?

Part of my role was to manage the new taught postgraduate culture that was emerging eight years ago at the University. This led to the  introduction of a pass/fail assessment process for postgraduate courses. My colleagues in the quality office have taken this innovation forward. This project will expand our understanding of the pass/fail approach and whether it could or should be applied to other cohorts.

This project will also contribute towards the University’s work in creating an inclusive learning experience for all students where they can thrive and succeed.

A photograph of Peter Hughes. A white man with a beard and glasses with fair hair standing in front of trees. Peter has a warm expression.

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I am Peter Hughes, Academic Development Manager at Leeds Arts University where my focus is the enhancement of learning, teaching and assessment and advising on curriculum design and development across the university. Originally an academic in geography & environmental studies I shifted over to educational development roles mid-career.

I was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2002, principally for my work around assessment and education for sustainable development. My NTF work focused on the idea of “autonomous learning zones” and this developed into involvement with a range of sector projects around reflective learning, personal development planning, eportfolios and student transitions. I’ve been increasingly engaged in work around inclusive curricula including a focus on autism and curriculum. I’m an autistic academic. 

This project presents an opportunity for me to delve further into assessment practices and their role in supporting student transition into, through and beyond university. Compassionate assessment that supports each student’s learning journey and personal growth is a key part of an inclusive curriculum. For me, flexibility and variety in assessment, and briefs which allow the opportunity for students to focus on special interests are important, along with anything that demystifies and humanises the process. 

Photograph of Nina Spencer - a white woman with blonde hair wearing a blue hoodie and smiling.

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I am Nina Spencer, Deputy Academic Registrar (Quality Assurance & Standards) at Leeds Arts University. I have worked in Higher Education for over 20 years – starting off in administration moving through operations, project management before ending up in quality. I have worked with institutions varying from big universities to private for-profit organisations and small specialist institutions. 

As the person responsible for quality assurance, I am the keeper of the rules, our Academic Regulations (the Regulations). We all need rules including in higher education. A university is a complex community and, like any community, we needregulations and policies to successfully co-exist. This project is important to me as I am keen to make sure our Regulations are there to support our students, not to catch them out, including in their transition into higher education, in their progression through their studies, and beyond. I am interested to learn how our willingness to support our students individually compassionately can co-exist with Regulations that are consistent and equitable for all.

I would like to think that we have implemented many things here at Leeds Arts University over the years that support compassion in our assessment and one of the things we have made possible, partly through careful review and writing of our Regulations, is to introduce a Pass / Fail model. 

We received TDAP in 2016 when we could start writing our own regulations. And with that, in 2017, Leeds Arts University decided to move to a Pass/Fail model for all modules on all of our postgraduate courses. The rationale was that this would better support the practice-based nature of our Masters course and the postgraduate culture of the University and would allow students to concentrate on their practice, experimentation and risk-taking rather than chasing marks. The Pass/Fail model on postgraduate courses supports our vision of a collaborative as opposed to a competitive culture. The adoption of the Pass/Fail model on postgraduate courses has been positively received by students and staff.

This year, we also introduced Pass / Fail for our first year students. These students had already experienced significant disruption to their school and college studies following the lockdown in March 2020 and the continuing impact of the pandemic had meant that the transition to Higher Education learning had been more difficult for those entering their first year.  The aim of a Pass/Fail approach was to enable these students to focus on their learning, including their development of subject knowledge and transferable skills, and allowing for experimentation and risk-taking. The aim was also that the removal of a focus on grades would help the management of pressure and anxiety and by that support student wellbeing. The University is now in the process of evaluating and discussing next steps with the Pass/Fail approach for our first year students, for this next cohort of first year students in the first instance. We will be deliberating carefully before deciding how we proceed, with our students at the forefront of our minds. As part of our careful deliberations, we are looking at how we ensure students can develop effective assessment literacy in preparation for their second year, and we are looking at the feedback, ensuring this is meaningful and pertinent and in the spirit of feedforward.

Black and white photograph of Laura da Costa with dark hair and a a black jacket, smiling.

Who are you and why is this project important to you?

I am Dr Laura da Costa, Access and Participation Development Manager at Leeds Arts University. My background is in educational research, and all of my professional career has revolved around the topic of inequities in education.

I have evaluated programmes that aim to support students from underrepresented groups to participate in higher education, and also researched socioeconomic inequality at school (for example in rural and coastal areas), in participation in higher education, and in access to the professions. My current role focuses on the evaluation and monitoring, but also development, of the university’s progress against our Access and Participation Plan. Across these roles, I have been really interested in the stories we tell ourselves about our institutions and the often different stories the data tells. Do we really have equitable and inclusive institutional practices if a smaller proportion of our students from underrepresented groups are consistently awarded fewer first class and 2:1 degrees than their peers?

In terms of assessment, I have trained exam board staff in modern test theory, including Item Response Theory, the Rasch Model, used in the construction and evaluation of tests, and adaptive comparative judgment, a more holistic assessment approach. I have also been part of a comparative and international education project exploring what fair assessment means to inspectors, exam board officials, teachers, and students across Germany, Sweden and England. Across these projects, I have been really interested in how “we” define fairness and equity in assessment, and fairness for whom?

There has historically been greater focus on increasing the proportion of students from underrepresented groups participating in higher education, with a lot of discussion about how best to employ contextualised admissions processes. As the focus moves to the full student lifecycle, I am very interested in how we decolonise our curriculum and pedagogy and as part of this, how we interrogate and contextualise our assessment processes. For me, this project presents an opportunity to improve my and my institution’s understanding of how these aspects can work to meaningfully enhance the extent to which students from underrepresented groups feel like they belong in higher education and the creative arts world.