Experience of EMA: Dr Nicola Abram

Role: Lecturer in Literatures in English


Previous experience of electronic management of assessment:

I’ve been using an online Learning Journal as a method of assessment on my Part 3 modules (‘Black British Fiction’ and ‘Global Literatures: Translation as Theme and Theory’) since Autumn 2015. The format of the Learning Journal has evolved over the years, in response to students and in consultation with colleagues. What began as a spiral-bound paper file now makes use of the ‘Journals’ tool on Blackboard. I’ve written in detail about using online Learning Journals as a mode of assessment on the UoR teaching and learning blog, ‘T&L Exchange’.


What I like about EMA:

  • It’s portable! The old paper learning journals were huge, and heavy, especially after students stuck in clippings and print-outs to demonstrate their independent learning. This made it very difficult to take the batch home to mark – and was even worse for colleagues who commute. Now I can mark anywhere, and the moderator can see my mark and comments instantly.
  • Students retain access to their online journals even after they are submitted for summative assessment, so they can build on that material to inform the writing of their essays.
  • I can see in real time what students are learning, as they submit weekly entries to the online journal. This means I can quickly feed back on an individual’s comments, or use seminar time to teach to any common issues that arise.
  • It’s environmentally friendly. My teaching and research focus on issues of social justice, and that cannot ignore the effects of environmental change on marginalised communities. By going paperless, the method of assessment in these modules is ideologically consistent with their content.

What I’ve found more challenging:

  • Though students can upload images, audio recordings and films to their entries, the functionality of the Blackboard ‘Journals’ tool is limited. Students usually prefer to draft the entry in MS Word before they upload it, so that they can correctly format footnotes and position images.
  • I sometimes get nervous that I’ll accidentally delete a student’s journal, or reveal the mark and feedback to them before it’s ready….but it hasn’t happened yet!

Top tips for EMA beginners:

  • Don’t do it just for the sake of it, but do be open to the possibility that this may enhance your students’ learning experience and streamline your assessment process.
  • Be prepared to evolve your practice as you experiment with the tools available and become more confident. It might take several years to perfect the process, but it’s worth it.

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