Bluenotes GLOBAL 2021 XV – Re-imagining Feedback & Assessment in a Post-Pandemic World of Higher Education

The Bluenotes GLOBAL 2021 virtual experience (VX) was a great success made possible by all the presenters, session chairs, attendees, and keynote speakers.

Due to the pandemic, this year marked the second time that the Bluenotes community shifted the annual conference to an online format. In collaboration with the University of Louisville and sponsored by Explorance, Bluenotes GLOBAL 2021 VX was held from August 2-4.

With Covid-19 forcing so many educational institutions to shift to remote learning rapidly, it was fitting that the conference’s theme focused on Re-imagining Feedback & Assessment in a Post-Pandemic World of Higher Education. Over three days, leaders and practitioners in institutional effectiveness, institutional research, teaching and learning, technology, and faculty gathered and shared their experiences in using data and analytics to turn student feedback into student-centric impact, as well as their expectations and plans for the future.

A Dynamic Keynote on Accessibility

Attended by over 250 Bluenotes community members and practitioners from more than 120 Higher Education institutions across the globe, Bluenotes GLOBAL 2021 VX kicked off with a dynamic keynote from David B. Berman. David is a top expert in the fulfillment of ADA, EN 301 549, and AODA laws regarding accessible web-based applications, meetings, and documents.

In his keynote titled The Accessibility Dividend: Learning that Leaves No One Behind, David reflected on the layers of challenges and opportunities that the pandemic presented for many schools as they swiftly got remote learning ready and inclusive for everyone.

“What we are finding is that the innovations that we are being forced to take on now are going to resonate after the pandemic, and in many ways make us stronger and more capable,” David stated. “It will also up our level in terms of what we can do to ensure that every learner is more likely to succeed.”

David demonstrated some examples of what he called the “accessibility dividend”, including a clear Covid-19 mask that allowed the audience to see his mouth and facial expressions as he spoke. “With a mask on, people who are used to taking visual cues, especially lip-reading, couldn’t communicate well,” David explained. “This is why we developed DIY instructions on how to create a clear Covid-19 mask.”

Faculty Research Findings on Inclusion in Higher Education

Not surprisingly, the topic of inclusion was a common thread throughout the 3-day conference. In a presentation led by Lawrence Meda, an Assistant Professor at Zayed University, he looked at Special Needs Students’ Experiences of Emergency Remote Learning in UAE. Professor Meda was a recipient of Explorance’s 2021 Faculty Research Grant and presented the findings of his study to the Bluenotes community. The three key takeaways from his presentation were:

  • Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, special needs students have been dropping out of their universities and are reported to have lower levels of attendance. This has resulted in the UAE emphasizing a need for inclusive learning.
  • A theoretical framework was used to study what special needs students were experiencing throughout the pandemic. Professor Meda’s study used both open-ended questionnaires and conducted 20 semi-structured interviews.
  • His findings revealed that students had mixed feelings about online learning. Numerous participants expressed having a positive experience when their professors made an effort to include them, such as converting course materials to audio. However, some students felt that a technology barrier and unaccommodating professors negatively impacted their learning experience. In the end, only 18% of special needs students prefer online learning. They believe that in-person learning is irreplaceable.

Another faculty research grant presentation, this time from Liverpool John Moores University, explored students’ perceptions of the inclusive curricula. This student-staff collaborative research project involved an iterative dialogue informed by the Delphi technique, presented by Denise Lee, Philip Carey, Emma Smith, and Elena Zaitsevad. The research team used Bluepulse – the continuous listening platform – to question the student body, with a representative panel of students scrutinizing the data.

In their session, Denise revealed: “We quite quickly understood that inclusivity meant different things to different people. What was most important to students was that feeling of being valued and having their voices heard by the institution.”

Institution-Led Presentations about the Student Experience

The conference could not have been made possible without the generosity and contribution of the Bluenotes community. This year, community members from higher education institutions around the globe led experience-rich presentations and panel discussions. In addition to inclusion, many of the topics focused on the present and future of the student experience and the integral role that feedback and technology will play in giving every student a voice.

Several panel discussions featuring speakers from multiple institutions facilitated attendees to discuss pertinent topics such as:

  • How Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Transform Evaluations at Your Institution? James Madison University, Rutgers University, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Minnesota.
  • Discussing and Addressing Bias in Course Evaluation: University of Toronto, University of Florida, Oregon Health and Science University

“I get a lot of value out of the Bluenotes community, and the conference specifically,” commented Heather Thompson from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “So, I try to give back and pay it forward to others. I also love being able to share something that will improve someone else’s process and help them better leverage all the cool tools Blue gives us.”

Community Meetups

Bluenotes is very much a community, and the conference offered attendees the opportunity to meet up with peers from similar institutions or who have a common interest. These meetups were an opportunity to connect, share, discuss, and problem-solve together to address unique requirements and challenges, and included:

  1. The Business School Community: Co-chaired by Bluenotes community members from The Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
  2. Blue Experts Community: Co-chaired by Bluenotes community members from University of Minnesota, University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Washtenaw Community College
  3. Medical & Health Sciences Community: Co-chaired by Bluenotes community members from Oregon Health and Science University and The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.
  4. Reporting & Analytics Community: Co-chaired by Bluenotes community members from University of Minnesota and University of Florida.

John Moore from the University of Virginia noted: “The online experience for this year’s conference was fantastic and all sessions proceeded extremely smooth from my point of view. I’d imagine you all must really knock the ball out of the park when it comes to in-person conferences.”

What’s Next?

When one Bluenotes GLOBAL conference ends, the planning immediately begins for the next. The Bluenotes community, Explorance, and the University of Louisville will look at the feedback gathered from each session survey at Bluenotes GLOBAL 2021 VX.

“We will use this information to optimize future conferences so that every attendee has the best learning and networking experience, and the events continue to be the success they have been for the last eight years,” said Yeona Jang, Chief Community Engagement Officer at Explorance. “In the coming months, registration will open for the 2022 conference and the Call for Application for Explorance’s 2022 faculty Research Grant.”

“Thank you to all who made the 2021 conference possible and to all who attended and participated. Seeing it come together last week was truly amazing and inspiring!”