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Digital assessment and feedback tools

Posted on: 02 Apr 2020 | Views: 130

Many of you are well underway with considering how to alter your assessment and feedback design due to current circumstances. This post focuses on the digital assessment and feedback tools available at Ulster, with current circumstances in mind. It also outlines some things to think about when considering alternative assessment, along with support resources. This is informed by recent conversations we’re having with Ulster staff. ODL and CHERP can provide support and guidance with this. Further information is available at: ODL Teaching continuity and CHERP Remote Study and work.

Electronic Management of Assessment

The Ulster Electronic Management of Assessment policy promotes online submission, marking and feedback of assignments. This practice is well established, with over 120,000 assignments submitted online during AY 2018/19. Two tools dominate; the Blackboard Assignment tool and Turnitin Feedback Studio (formerly called GradeMark). Both tools provide an online submission dropbox for students, with the ability for instructors to mark, provide feedback and manage assessments online. A range of file types can be submitted, allowing for a variety of assessments, such as; essay, poster, reflective writing, presentation, image, infographic, calculations, hand drawn scan, or a combination of files. The table below shows a quick comparison of the key features of both tools.

Turnitin Feedback Studio (GradeMark) Blackboard Assignment
Setup- Content Area, action bar menu Assessment tab Setup- Content Area, action bar menu Assessment tab
Adaptive Release date – set when assignment available to students Limit Availability date setting – set when assignment is available to students
Supported file types Supported file types
Digital annotation (Document viewer) Digital annotation (Box view)
Reusable feedback comments (QuickMarks) Freehand annotation
Rubric (Turnitin only) Rubric (for all Bb tools, not Turnitin)
Similarity check Group assignment (Bb Group tool integration)
Referencing and citation check Video/media submission (Panopto integration)
Anonymous marking Anonymous marking
Compiles downloadable format for students, with all feedback Delegated grading
Access submissions via Turnitin Assignment Inbox (Course Tools > Turnitin) Access submissions via Needs Marking or Grade Centre
Attach feedback files via Grade Centre Attach feedback files via Box View
Peer review (PeerMark) Self and Peer Assessment too

Open-book exam

Blackboard Assignment and Turnitin Feedback Studio can be used for an open-book exam, to provide an alternative to traditional examinations. The questions, or activity, can be made available to students at the beginning of the open-book exam, with the assignment due date set for the completion time. Further tips for designing an open-book exam are available from the CHERP FAQ section and Sally Brown & Kay Sambell links below.

Oral exams (viva voce)

Bb Collaborate, the synchronous virtual classroom, could be used for oral exams, which can be recorded. Skype for Business is another alternative.

Video/media assignment

The Bb Assignment tool integrated with Ulster’s Panopto Video Platform, enabling students to upload video/media/audio files to a submission dropbox. Students can create and submit a range of media assignments such as; annotated presentation, screencast, talking head, podcast, vlog, elevator pitch or performance. You could provide choice around what technologies students use to create a specified media file as part of an assessment brief, to encourage creativity and allow for student preferences with regard to technology. Creating a media assignment can develop student digital capabilities and support academic integrity. However, media assignments can require support to set up and manage, which could be a risk at present, if you haven’t used this approach before. Note, all media files should be uploaded to Blackboard via Panopto, from the instructor or student.

Group assignment

The Blackboard Assignment tool integrates with the Blackboard Group tool to create a Group assignment submission dropbox. The Group tool (Control Panel > User and Groups) can be used to initially divide your students into groups. You can select who is in the groups, it can be random or self-selected by the students. When setting up the groups you have the option of making Bb communication and collaboration tools available for the group to control and use, e.g. Bb Discussions, Bb Blog, Bb Wiki and Bb Collaborate. Hide any tools you don’t want them to use. The Groups tool links to the Bb Assignment tool settings, so that students can upload a group assignment.

Blackboard Tests

A Blackboard Test is another popular assessment and feedback tool. It has many benefits, especially useful to check understanding; shape teaching; provide automatic feedback to self-correct; automatic marking; and is a digital course activity that students find really useful.

However, using Bb Tests to replace traditional examinations in current circumstances is risky, due to the reliance on students having a continuous remote WiFi connection. It can also be more associated with testing information recall, rather than higher cognitive skills, such as reflection and critical analysis. An open book exam format could be considered instead.

Other options

There are a range of other technologies available to support assessment and feedback practice via Blackboard, managed by ODL. This toolmap shows the supported tools available – view as a presentation to activate tool links. Note, there is also a range of Office 365 apps, managed by ISD, that can also help support assessment and feedback practice. A range of Blackboard communication and collaboration tools can also be used for assessment, e.g. Blog, Journal, wiki, as shown in the toolmap. The Bb Journal tool can be useful for reflective writing activities.

Office 365 OneNote Class Notebook can be used to create an e-portfolio that can be assessed. Turnitin PeerMark and Bb Self and Peer Assessment can be used for self-assessment and peer review. These tools support effective assessment and feedback practice, however require some support with set up, which could present a risk at present, if you haven’t used them before.

Digital assessment workflow

Every assessment that is created in Blackboard, creates a column in the Grade Centre for instructors to manage the assessment and feedback, with a corresponding row created in the My Grades tool for students to view their marks and feedback. It is recommended you test your assessment workflow from the student and instructor perspectives. The Add Test Student (Control Panel > Course tools) functionality provides the most representative workflow, allowing you to also check the Blackboard App student experience.


A variety of feedback can be provided to students using various Bb tools. As shown above, Turnitin and Bb Assignments can provide a range of feedback from the instructor – criteria-based (rubric), annotated, detailed comments, reusable comments. The Panopto media platform allows for authentic video or audio feedback to be provided generally to the cohort via a Content Area. Bb Tests can provide automatic feedback. Bb Discussions and Bb Blogs can allow for formative peer feedback and dialogue, with the Bb Journal tool allowing for reflection on feedback. PeerMark and the Self & Peer Assessment tool allow for peer review.

Considerations for alternative assessment

Begin by reviewing the learning outcomes and any accrediting body requirements to see what is possible. Keep it as simple and straightforward as you can. As with teaching remotely, an asynchronous approach, or a mix of synchronous and asynchronous, provides less risk and is more inclusive than a fully synchronous approach, e.g. the risk of using Blackboard Tests which requires a continuous real-time synchronous WiFi connection.

For alternative assessment, a low-tech option could be offered to promote inclusivity, for students with limited access to devices, technologies and WiFi. Flexibility could be included in the settings, e.g. allow submissions after the due date. It is worth reflecting on the current digital capabilities of both staff and students. It will be easier to use digital assessment tools that you are familiar with. Also consider the marking, feedback and moderation processes.

Remember to provide your students with clear assessment instructions, guidance and support, with signposting to the assessment tools. If you are using the Standard Module Template, assessments should be made available from the Assessment link on the left menu, otherwise create an Assessment folder. You could create an announcement, using the Bb Announcement tool, to alert your students to assessments.

There are various aspects to consider with regard to academic integrity in digital assessment. Consider does the assessment design promote authenticity. Continuous peer dialogue using Bb Discussions, reflective writing using the Bb Journal or Bb Blog tool, an e-portfolio, provide the opportunity for students to develop and express their authentic voice, and allows the instructor to get to know it. Studiosity is available to Ulster students, to support academic writing skills. If there are concerns with high-stakes summative work, a viva style virtual meeting could take place, using technology such as Bb Collaborate.

Further reading