The Struggles of Innovation by Hina Suleman

The struggles of innovation: What happens when we introduce innovative technology-based assessments into Higher Education courses? (A collective case study based on investigation of staff and students’ experience with innovative assessments in higher education courses)



Hina Suleman
Hina Suleman

In recent decades, higher education (HE) is under regular developments, as rapid advancements in technology and development, of pedagogical theories, urge for more innovative approaches towards education. Year on year, practitioners are encouraged to adapt and adopt new and innovative ideas from the world of ICT where students engage creatively in an interactive learning environment.


This allows room for integration between traditional pedagogical practices and modern pedagogy to remain relevant for contemporary learners. The wide application of digitally – enhanced tools promotes interactive methods of teaching, learning and assessing. This enhances each other and offers students an active student-centred, flexible environment whereby, students are encouraged to interact with resources in their own time, promoting deep learning.


The purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of digitally-infused assessments and its impact on students and teachers. This research paper explores the findings of a collective case study – investigating student reviews and staff perceptions towards a new form of assessment, called an ‘interactive essay’, as an approach to assessment at one College-Based Higher Education (CBHE) establishment. Relevant literature was reviewed to analyse the concept of technology-enhanced assessments and highlight how technology alters learning.


To reveal the potential of using interactive essays three lecturers were interviewed. To investigate the initial impressions of students that have not used interactive essays and evaluate the experiences of students who have used the interactive essays, qualitative data was gathered from a focus group with six students and questionnaires by eighteen students. The data collected, was analysed using thematic analysis.


Findings suggested that there is a positive consensus regarding the effectiveness of technology-infused assessments at the CBHE institution. Students benefitted from having more choice in assessment practices and alignment in teaching, learning and assessments, finding this valuable; gaining useful skills in preparing them for future employment prospects.


Even though all students at CBHE institution had access to Wi-Fi and technology, issues with limited digital skills and lack of adequate support highlighted the importance of provision for students to develop twenty-first century skills, to enhance their digital experience and maximise learning. This case study is not replicable as a coherent set group of people were used.


Key words: Interactive essays, student-centred learning, technology-infused assessments



HE – Higher Education
BERA – British Educational Research Association
I.E – Interactive Essays
NW – North West
ICT – Information and communications technology



Following some of the developments in pedagogies and assessment practices in the HE sector, technology is playing an increasingly important part. For instance, some universities are embracing an approach to innovation by including informal and nonacademic learning practices as they move away from education based on examination, towards a competency-based approach where there is focus on the process of learning and acquiring skills, rather than on the volume of knowledge gained, to remain relevant in our digital economy (ECORYS UK, 2016).


Currently, Edinburgh Napier University are using digital dissertations to encourage innovative pedagogies and widen assessment routes. Whilst others are using stealth assessment by incorporating competency learning as a new pedagogy; applying dynamic assessment and feedback into educational computer games, to offer engaging ways to teach competencies such as creativity, problem solving, persistence and collaboration (Sharples et al., 2015).


Recognising that innovative approaches to assessing and learning brings new insights into the value of informal learning. Powerful new pedagogies like these can offer contemporary learners the opportunity to pursue education in a personalised and self-paced way, whilst simultaneously engaged in online discussion and collaborative inquiry (Sharples et al., 2015; Mayes and Freitas, 2007).


This research project is looking at the influence of a Technology Enhanced Learning Assessment approach. There is a new form of assessment called an Interactive Essay and it is designed to equip learners with a range of skills, in addition to core subject knowledge, whilst encouraging communication beyond the classroom and, responding to the spirit of the FELTAG report (JISC, 2017) moving towards an online approach to assessment.


Interactive essay model is specific to the institution I am studying at and was develop with the vision to allow students to play with ideas, not only of content but also of presentation, thus generating an engaging way to learning and sharing. It involves doing three things differently:


1. Students will not write a traditional form of essay (Word processed essay). It requires incorporating digital tools including videos and animation into a
learner’s work.

2. They have an option to include multimedia (Hyperlinks, animation, videos). The use of multimedia and digital technology to enhance traditional essays/ written reports.

3. It requires a creation of a multitude network to share their work – creating networks to share work online; connecting with peers and academic experts who contribute to students’ learning through constructive feedback.


The motivation for this research project came from my personal educational experiences as a mature student returning to learning. Increased access to technology and digitally-inspired curriculum left me feeling intimidated as I was conditioned to learn through the ‘banking model’ of education. I was more comfortable writing traditional essays, initially resisting the idea of incorporating digital tools in my academic work, due to the fear of technology and limited digital skills. I was introduced to the interactive essay model at level five of my studies.


Intrigued by the concept I wished to investigate whether technology alters learning and began to explore how digitally-infused assessments can enhance or challenge students. The diagram below suggests the structure of this case study and highlights participants involved across different disciplines.


Background Research

Background Research indicates that the actual theories in use, remain stuck in the pedagogical past and are dominated with exams, essays and occasional presentations (Anderson and Dron, 2011). However, contemporary education extends beyond the transmission of knowledge, towards enabling students to become active, reflective and autonomous learners (Facer, 2011). A variety of factors have contributed to the current need for better assessment practices in higher education, due to the growing technology advancement (Beetham and Sharpe 2007).


The increasing diversity of learners and innovative technologies warrants new and innovative approaches to assessment practices to make, learning more effective, accessible and personalised (Garrison and Anderson, 2003, 2005). Today, technology is not dictating pedagogy but helping to shape it. Shukie (2016) and Biggs (1999), discuss the importance of aligning how we teach, what we teach and how we assess it, if practitioners are delivering in diverse ways through blogs, discussion forums and through social media then there must be alignment in the way they assess learners.


I am interested in developing assignments for higher education courses to include greater creativity in how written assignments are presented and better reflect the 21st century students. Since the emergence of a global movement, a new model of learning for the twenty-first century is required. It has been argued that formal education must be transformed to enable new forms of learning that are needed to tackle complex global challenges (Siemens, 2005). Literature on this topic offers compelling arguments for transforming pedagogy to better support acquisition of twenty-first century skills.


However, the question of how best to teach these skills is largely overlooked. Experts recognize that the ‘transmission’ or lecture model is highly ineffective for teaching twenty-first century competencies and skills, yet widespread use of this model continues. Despite worldwide agreement that learners need skills such as critical thinking and the ability to communicate effectively, innovate, and solve problems through negotiation and collaboration, pedagogy has been seldom adapted to address these challenges (JISC/HEFCE, 2011). Rethinking pedagogy for the twenty-first century is as crucial as identifying the new competencies that today’s learners need to develop (Scott, 2015).


Aims and objectives

The primary research for this study will be based on collecting and analysing qualitative data to explore and answer the following three research questions:

1. What are the benefits and limitations for lecturers/staff, that have used/will potentially use the interactive essay as a form of assessment? Within this first question, the focus is on lecturers that are using the interactive essay. The purpose of asking this question is to see whether they found it useful or whether they were concerns about using technology.

2. What are the initial impressions of students yet to complete the interactive essay? This research question allowed me to discover students’ expectations and initial attitudes prior to designing an interactive essay as a method of assessment. Do they have any worries or fears at this stage?

3. How do students describe their experiences having used the interactive essay as a form assessment? This research question allows me to access the effectiveness of interactive essay, by investigating in a neutral space, unrelated to the assessment and finding out, from students’ experience, whether they enjoyed designing an interactive essay, or what they thought was difficult about it – tracking their general response to the interactive essay as form of assessment.


Literature Review

The literature, selected in this review, supports the aims of this study and contains two sections. By exploring some key areas from the wider sector, in relation to innovative assessments in higher education (HE), I aim to provide an informed foundation on how technology is changing teaching, learning and assessment. The first section discusses the different elements and directors of interactive essay. It will also provide an understanding of the concept of digitally-infused assessment.


Current policies that have been proposed and implemented to support innovative pedagogies and the influence of technology in HE will also be reviewed. The second section evaluates the potential challenges with use of technology in learning. It discusses the issues of research and scholarship in technology-enhanced environments, in relation to learning.


Directors of Interactive Essay

Timmis et al. (2016) describes technology enhanced assessment as the use of any digital technology, for enhancing formal or informal educational assessment, for formative or summative purposes. Research indicates that the actual theories in use remain stuck in the pedagogical past and still adopt the behaviourist principles of teaching and learning, which encourages passivity and kills progressive learning. For example, currently, assessments are dominated with exams, essays and occasional presentations.


JISC report (2010) indicates that, e-assessment and e-feedback eflect how 21st century learners (Prensky’s (2001) ‘digital natives’) interact with the digital world and helps students acquire essential skills in self-monitoring which can prompt effective personalised learning. Many of the current, and certainly most of the future learners are remarkably immersed in technology, forcing educators and policy makers, to rethink education, by focusing on progressive learning and applying modern pedagogies in education.


The JISC (2010) report argues that using technology to enhance assessment and feedback will only succeed if the fundamentals of good assessment design and teaching practice are in place. This implies that digitally-infused assessments are thus not substitutes and a panacea (Curtis et al., 2006). JISC/HEFCE (2017) report argues, technology-enhanced assessment and feedback, can provide greater variety in assessment design, improve student engagement and widen student choice and allows for immediate feedback.


However, there is often a temptation to introduce new technology without firstly considering the need hence, changing effective practice for the worse (Curtis et al., 2006). JISC (2010) report concludes that there will be an inevitable increase in the use of technology, in all aspects of teaching, learning and assessment. As a result, everyone involved in these processes will need to change and adapt their ways of working and their expectations so that the principles of good assessment are not lost, and that student learning remains at the heart of the educational process.


Valentine (2008) argues that despite rapid advances in technology, most teaching is still bound by a rigid curriculum and relies on traditional and outdated models of teaching and learning. In practice, the internet disrupts this standardised and traditional logic of education by offering an experience of knowledge as participatory and multiple through modern pedagogies like rhizomatic learning. Thinkers Deleuze and Guattari (1987) refer to rhizomes as open-ended and non-hierarchal suggesting that knowledge comes from multiple routes, there is no single tap route, it exists in various places.


Rhizomatic learning is increasingly being used in various educational research to challenge traditional dominating power structures. Rather than a fixed, static and defined set of targets, interactive essays offers a creative and innovative approach to assignments, where students take their own learning journey to create the assignments. This correlates to the principles of rhizomatic learning, where learners are active, encouraged to have power and control over their learning opposing an education system where policy makers and teachers have power to choose to control learning through standardisation. This then democratises the learning environment giving each student a unique way to interact and contribute to their own learning experience.


According to Laurillard (2012), investing in technology without changing pedagogy results in failing to achieve the desired impact on learning outcomes. Similarly, Barr and Tagg (1995) argue that even though student-led pedagogy is advocated by most educators, ultimately teaching and learning still relies on ‘telling’ and instruction. In response, Kanuka (2008) calls for educators to realise the purpose of education through ‘philosophies-in practice,’ she emphasises that technology choices applied must be based in wider appreciation of what education is meant to achieve.


Further research indicates that digital technology challenges traditional methods of delivering education, demanding new models of learning to keep pace with evolving technology and prepare students for the unknown future digital change (House of Lords, 2015). Biggs (1996) proposes the use of constructive alignment. This suggest that the learning goals, the means of delivery and the assessment should all consummate with each other to form a good pedagogical design.


According to Mayes et al. (2009), the UK Government research project, Transforming and Enhancing the Student Experience through Pedagogy, highlighted a ‘modern pedagogical consensus for socio-constructivist thinking’ (p.209). A few decades earlier Biggs (1996) discovered a similar claim but argued that the, traditional theories like behaviourism are still in use and dominating education. Teaching, learning and assessment practice is still based upon transmission, repetition and memorising of information.


Similarly, Shukie (2016) explains that despite the discourse suggesting a preference for social constructivism and shifting ownership from teachers to learners, traditional pedagogical approaches like lecturing and ‘telling’ still dominate education sectors. Interactive essay redefines the teacher’s role as the creator of knowledge, the students as the deficient of knowledge and learning as the accumulation of knowledge, along with designated pathways under teacher guidance.


By choosing your own topic, by choosing how you are going to present it, by choosing what sources you are going to use, students construct their knowledge through a process of active inquiry and take more responsibility of their learning. Developing knowledge is not restricted to the four walls of the classroom as students are encouraged to interact and collaborate outside their institution through social media platforms and networking which gives students the opportunity to explore and develop proactively making them confident users of technology.


This view challenges current assumptions about how institutions can put a boundary around a learning experience learning is everywhere – not just in institutions. This suggests that the adoption of interactive learning turn, has led to a revolution in the fundamental process of education (Sankey and Hunt, 2014).


Overall, Interactive essay is reflective of how technology is changing the forms of teaching, learning and assessment. It suggests an innovative assignment format for use across academic disciplines that reflects changes to the traditional forms of assignments. The techno-centric element present, in an interactive essay, redefines the teacher’s role as the creator of knowledge, the students as the deficient of knowledge and learning as the accumulation of knowledge along with designated pathways under teacher guidance.


By choosing your own topic, by choosing how you are going to present it, by choosing what sources you are going to use, and creating network for sharing work, ownership of knowledge is given to student not the tutor. Learning is not restricted to a classroom as students are encouraged to interact and collaborate outside their institution through various online platforms and networking which gives students the opportunity to explore and develop proactively making them confident users of technology. Students often tend to submit, blindly accept and be passive learners too constrained by the organisations, rather than becoming analytical and creative educators who shape what happens next.


However, interactive essays encourage critical thinking, allows students to play with ideas, not only of content but also of presentation and generates an engaging way to learning and sharing knowledge. It aims to encourage greater student autonomy, in the design of the essay and will help to create meaningful, transferrable skills and knowledge that will inform progression, into employment and further advanced study through the real-world use of technology. This is achieved by participating and engaging in writing blogs, creating interactive essays and peer assessment.


Thus, interactive essays portray an innovative approach to contemporary education that extends beyond the transmission of knowledge, towards enabling students to become active and reflective learners, in the process develop; problem-solving, networking skills and encourage collaboration through peer-to-peer learning.


Issues and challenges


Critical thinking and CRAP detection

Rheingold (2010) accentuates the importance of expanding our knowledge beyond digital skills and technologies to include essential 21st century social media literacies. Students often trust the information given to them by tutors because they expect that information to be credible, especially because they are paying to be educated.


Students generally do not check the authority of the resources for credibility here, though this is a generalisation and the assumption can be challenged. Rheingold (2010) highlights CRAP detection as the phenomena of evaluating and selecting resources based on the following criteria: Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose. This new skill for students includes being able to act as detectives, searching for ‘authority’ of the text. CRAP detection is considered an essential skill for the contemporary students, that needs to be taught but rarely is, perhaps because it is not a tangible skill with results immediately seen.


The internet has altered who writes, who reads, and what we mean by ‘authentic’ or ‘accountable’ (Weller, 2011). Therefore, it is important that students learn how to detect crap to avoid taking things at face value. Similarly, Prensky (2009) confirmed that a ‘digitally wise’ person should not only know how to use digital technologies but also have the capacity to critically evaluate them, make ethical choices and more pragmatic decisions.


By changing his discourse around ‘digital natives’, Prensky (2009) acknowledges that students need to acquire digital skills to critically and effectively use technologies. Evidence demonstrates that exposure to technology alone is not enough to unlock the full potential of digital technology, digital skills and literacies are essential skills required in the current labour market (ECDL Foundation, 2014).


Rheingold’s (2013) mini course ‘Crap Detection 101’ explores the notion of authority of the text, and how the internet may be a cause for some concern. He advises on how this will impact on how we search, use and reform materials from online sources in our work. He advices to use web tools to determine information accuracy by focusing on the following social media literacies: attention, participation, cooperation, critical consumption and network awareness. Recognising the difference between authentic articles and non-authentic ones therefore, knowing how to find credible sources and where to find is a useful skill. It is important so that students are accessing reliable and authentic information.


Since schools are increasingly becoming technology-focused, it is all the more reason to teach and learn CRAP detection at an early stage of learning. Having search engines is the new way to search knowledge but we must learn the art of detecting what is reliable and what is not. Information pollution where too many people’s voices pollute what appears to be reliable and what is not (Carr,2008). According to Rheingold (2013), to find reliable sources online one should use the triangulation method to check for authenticity. However, it is often very time-consuming to find credible sources especially if you are not entirely sure about the mechanisms of CRAP detection.


With the increase in innovative technologies, there is essentially a need for new literacies, that allow us to navigate, read, write and interact with them. The concept of digital literacy is not defined by a single, unproblematic phrase or meaning (Weller, 2011). It is complex and developing continually thus, literacies cannot be standardised, some of us may know more than others, some have skills others may not have.


Research suggests that students and educators are given the opportunity to explore what technology is and how it is being used, much importance is given to creativity and to analysis however, little importance is given to prior technology skills. According to the ‘Make or Break: The UK’S Digital Future report, currently the drive for a more digital economy has led to increased reliance on automation and requires regular up-skilling and re-skilling however to a gap in digital literacy, low skills levels are threatening the digital future of the UK as the economic needs of firms is not being met (House of Lords, 2015). For this reason, digital literacy is positioned as an important entitlement for the digital generation as it can support their full participation in a society in which social, cultural, and economic life are increasingly mediated by digital technologies (Weller, 2011).


Digital divide

Bourdieu (1986) proposes ‘cultural’ and ‘social’ capital. This is the wealth that comes from being able to interact in certain situations, using a particular form of language and ways of interacting. Those without this background are excluded (the academic skills tend to be linked to middle class values). Using online materials can remove a lot of personal interaction creating a divide between those courses that work well in this way, disadvantaging those who prefer hands on or face to face discussions. The cost of resourcing is left with the student, not the institution.


For instance, it requires paper, printer, good broadband for resourcing, connection and communication. This suggests that technology is not the answer to liberation from oppression and can equally be a means of oppression and limited opportunity (Eubanks, 2006). Today’s education system is built on an outdated curriculum which is disconnected, and skills are needed to function in the digitised labour markets (Siemens,2005). Therefore, to prepare the people for the fourth industrial revolution businesses there is a push towards investing in re-skilling and up-skilling strategies to fully utilise the potential for technology to transform economy and education (World economic forum, 2016).


According to Eubanks (2006), the realities of the digital age are more complicated, especially for the underprivileged people. Evidence from ‘Make or Break the UK’s Digital Future’ report demonstrates that, digital divide poses a complex scenario, the evident shortage of medium and high-level digital skills in the UK needs immediate attention for UK to remain globally competitive (House of Lords,2015). Several studies imply that, currently, the governments vision for a digital economy and high technology development, is driven by flawed assumptions about race, class and gender.


Eubanks (2011) agrees but clarifies that, digital divide is not about equal distribution of resources (having access to the technology). Instead, she found that people had access but were exploited in low-paid, poor contact jobs in the technology sector. Technology was used as a tool for the unemployment and social services to monitor rather than help (Eubanks, 2011). Her research suggested that, middle class opinions of working class are that they need access and skills. On the contrary, people have the skills, have the access but are disadvantaged by society not by technology. This highlights that technology often leads to continued low wages and poor conditions, thus teaching people how to use popular technology can change their lives, promote community cohesion and reduce segregation (2011).


The goal of popular technology in Freirean sense is to both inspire action that promotes change in society for the better, and to see the relationship between technology and people as intrinsic to modern social justice goals (Feenberg, 1990, Eubanks, 2007). Overall, the flexibility, openness, and the ability to connect people to people through networking, communication and collaboration, can make powerful tools for social change. However, digital division can distort these qualities (Eubanks, 2007).


Overall, CRAP detection, digital divide and digital wisdom are examples of issues of research and scholarship in technology-enhanced environments discussed in relation to my project. They help learners look at technology as critical consumers by encouraging students to investigate before accepting any web information as credible and make cautious choices. Therefore, this area of focus supports this study on the struggles in innovation.


To benefit from technology in learning, when students publish their interactive essays online, create personal networks for collaboration and feedback, they can only benefit from the support that is accessible in a networked environment if they have developed essential 21st century literacies like CRAP detection skills, digital literacies and skills to identify valid and accurate knowledge and discard false information.


The practice of learning through online digital tools in higher education has been promoted especially in this study. Students were encouraged to participate in online forums, blogs, social networking environments which require students to be digitally literate. This literature review ends with the conclusion that summarises and links back to the overall question and the three research questions.



Research Strategy

Denscombe’s (2010) checklist for choice of methodology (see appendix 1) was used to section the research process and look for potential issues, so that the research aims can be achieved successfully. The methodological approach selected for this study utilises qualitative research methods adopting a small-scale interpretivist collective case study design frame. Through this disquisition, an in-depth, multifaceted exploration of the different experiences with innovative assessments of both staff and students was analysed – using a variety of methods focusing on one specific CBHE institution. An interpretivist paradigm is based on the idea that reality is socially constructed rather than objectively determined (Thomas,2013).


The detailed qualitative data produced focuses on participants perceptions in a real-life environment and helped strengthen the research validity, which may not be captured through a positivist paradigm. According to Denscombe (2014), a case study is more suitable for a small-scale research and allows a holistic approach to the subject being studied (in this case, staff and student experiences). Adopting case study research, placed me (researcher) at the heart of the research process. However, I was aware that my involvement whilst conducting the research, even as an observer, may impact the participant responses and so to ensure reflexivity was accounted for (Denscombe, 2010), all the questions were prepared in advance.


Data collected was recorded using a dictaphone and transcribed for reference and analysis following Sharp’s (2012) procedures with case study research to avoid manipulation of data. Yin (2009) states that case studies can answer why and how research questions, rather than simply what. Therefore, they have a potential to evaluate or explain – for example: the purpose of my research was to explore a new method of assessment, where little is known and alongside this, examine student and tutors’ perception in more detail.


Case study approach is often criticised because of lack of rigour, its dependency on a single case exploration provides little basis for scientific generalization and is considered ‘microscopic’ because of the limited sampling cases (Tellis,1997; Yin,1994). I did acknowledge that this case study will not be replicable as a coherent set group of people were used and I will not reach a generalising conclusion, but the adoption of qualitative analysis increases transferability in the research results. This suggests that the research findings can be transferred to another situation or context, but it is up to the reader to make this decision (Shenton, 2004).


Hamel et al (1993) and Yin (1994), however argue that, the parameter establishment and objective setting of the research are more important in case study design frame than a big sample size.


Sampling and Access

The selection of suitable sampling strategy to collect primary data for the research objectives was dependent on gaining access to a suitable source. A CBHE institution in the NW of England was selected for this case study, as being a current undergraduate student, within the institution, granted unproblematic access to the research participants. A total of twenty-seven adults were selected, twenty-two females and five males, using purposive and opportunistic sampling technique.


The sample was selected purposively based on a variable that is being studied (Cohen et al, 2011), which in this case is technology-infused assessment. Purposive sampling technique was effective as it allowed access to participants who have in-depth knowledge and experience about the influence of technology-infused assessments unlike random sampling which will involve participants who may be largely ignorant of the subject being researched (Denscombe,2014).


I had the opportunity to meet and work with the selected sample and this meant that the participants were likely to be more open and comfortable when participating, as opposed to if they were involved in a stranger’s research. This provided insider researcher position and promotes both the telling and the judging of the truth (Bonnor and Tolhurst, 2002).


Contrastingly, Mercer (2007) states that a heightened familiarity may lead to a risk of bias. However, this was acknowledged prior to conducting the research. Therefore, to ensure validity and reliability, participants were further questioned on their responses to expand and clarify the research data and remain focused on minimising sources of bias. The cohort is predominantly female, which is common to Education Studies cohort nationally (HESA,2016). Although gender is not central to this research it is a valuable area for further study with emphasis on technology in education (Shukie, 2017).


The pattern of the sample included; eighteen level six Education Study undergraduate students and range from twenty-one to late forty years of age who completed questionnaires, six level four Hospitality Management with Event Management undergraduate students with an age range from twenty-one to twentythree who participated in a focus group and three tutors who participated in a semistructured interview. However, there is an alternate top up group in the third year who have completed a foundation degree and I have purposely chosen not to include those because I required students who had the same pattern of year one, year two and year three.


This sampling strategy ensured continuity in the process and assured strength and richness in the data collected as the first-year student participants and the third-year student participants were actively involved or familiar with the same process of designing and presenting a digitally-enhanced assignment (see appendix 2).


The tutors who participated in the interviews are referred to as T1, T2, and T3 in the finding section of this report. This is to identify the background, age and length of time each tutor has worked in the HE sector – which is relevant and satisfactory to the needs of the research topic



Tutor 1: Academic lead in digital innovation in teaching, learning and assessment, Creator of interactive essay
Tutor 2: Fine Art and Education Studies lecturer, Interest in technology and education and is actively involved in the interactive essay.
Tutor 3: Hospitality Management with Event Management lecturer and is actively interested in the concept of technology-infused assessments


Data collection

It is highly important that the methods chosen to collect data are appropriate for the study and meet the aims of the research (Ritchie and Lewis, 2003). Therefore, for this research, semi-structured interviews with the creator of the interactive essay model and two lecturers at the CBHE establishment, a focus group with a group of six level four Event Management and Hospitality students and questionnaires with eighteen Education studies students, were used during the investigation.


The qualitative data collection methods adopted correspond with the research questions, with each primary data collection tool serving a specific research question. Alignment in the research approach, design frame and the data collection methods used, strengthened the research accuracy and increased validity. Applying multiple qualitative methods whilst conducting research allowed for methodological triangulation – providing a rich insight into the concept of innovative assessment.


Thus, by using focus group, interviews, as well as questionnaires, added a depth to the findings that would not have been possible using a single-strategy study (Lisa et al., 2002), thereby increasing the credibility and reliability of the data (Sharp, 2012). According to Thurmond (2001), one of the key disadvantages of triangulation is that it can be time consuming. This limitation was considered, and a time scale was created in the initial stages of project planning for better time management.



Semi-structured interviews were implemented to answer the first research question (what the benefits and limitations for lecturers are, that have used/will potentially use the interactive essay as a form of assessment?), as they provided the opportunity to gain insights into the tutors’ opinions and experiences regarding the interactive essay as a method of assessment in comparison to the traditional essay.


The interviews with CBHE staff were arranged by contacting the tutors, via email, informing them of the intended research project and all the interviews were conducted at the CBHE institution. At the time of the interview, participants were provided with participation information forms, consent forms and were debriefed with the questions, so that they fully understand what was being asked of them (Sharp, 2012).


The semi-structured interviews were carried out with three tutors, consisted of openended questions and lasted approximately six to twenty-one minutes in length. All interviews were audio recorded using a dictaphone (with the participants’ consent), and then subsequently transcribed (see appendix 3) for accuracy and data analysis purposes. However, this was extremely time-consuming (Bell,2005). This method was selected because it presented an opportunity to gather rich, in-depth data through flexible style of inquiry (O’Leary, 2014).


For example, it allowed me to probe responses and investigate the tutors understanding and individual experiences with technology-infused assessments, though some responses were difficult to analyse and interpret. It is a highly subjective technique to collect data and therefore an evident elevated risk of bias (Bell, 2005). Also, the validity and reliability could have been affected but audio recording and transcribing of data reduced the potential of bias and minimised effects. (Fielding and Thomas, 2008; Sharp 2012).


Focus group

To ascertain student perspectives and experiences on interactive essays, a focus group was used to answer the second research question (What are the initial impressions of students yet to complete the interactive essay?). This method provided students the opportunity to share their feelings freely about a new digitallyinfused method of assessment and their initial thoughts, before designing an interactive essay, without constricting their views.


A benefit of using focus group is that I was able to gather valuable data in a short time (Barbour, 2005). Laws et al. (2003) highlight that, focus group is a valuable method to collect in-depth information about peoples’ feelings on a particular issue. Therefore, this suited the second research question as it aimed to explore the students’ initial thoughts of interactive essay.


The focus group for this study consisted of six level four Event management and Hospitality students and lasted approximately ten minutes in length. Focus group discussion was carried out in the students’ classroom which was booked at an earlier date to fit the students schedule. Students were provided with participation information forms, consent forms and were briefed about the research objectives. After consent was sought, focus group discussions were audio-recorded and subsequently transcribed (see appendix 4).


One of the challenges faced in recording focus group data is that the louder voices dominated the focus group and knowing who is speaking at any time became difficult, since at times, students spoke in overlap (Cohen and Crabtree, 2006). However, audio recordings provided the ability to replay sessions during data analysis.



To answer the third research question (How do students describe their experiences having used the interactive essay as a form assessment?), I used semi structured questionnaires (see appendix 5) because I recognise the potential of avoiding researcher bias and wanted to capture experiences of students. Questionnaires provided the opportunity to collect reliable and straightforward information from a large group of students in a brief period, with little involvement of myself as the researcher (Sharp, 2012; Bartlett and Burton, 2012).


Due to the time constrained nature of the study, questionnaires appeared to be the most practical method in comparison to other data collection tools. Whilst designing and constructing the questionnaire, I ensured that the language used was accessible to all levels of students, so that the purpose of the study was understood, and it was acknowledged that questionnaires take time to fill in. Therefore, to ensure a maximum and detailed response rate, I considered the number of questions necessary to answer the research aim and included a mix of both open-ended and closed questions, allowing participants to disclose their views freely (Simmons, 2008).


All the participants were provided with participation information forms detailing the aims of the study and consent forms, informing them of their rights. The questionnaires were distributed to the Education Studies students at the CBHE institution during a tutorial session for their convenience and the response rate was one hundred percent as all eighteen out of eighteen participants responded and gave detailed answers, providing rich, valuable data for analysis.



To answer the third research question (How do students describe their experiences having used the interactive essay as a form assessment), I reviewed the level five Education Studies – ‘Educational practice in the digital age’ module’s assignment brief (see appendix 2). The second assessment in the assignment brief which gives students the opportunity to create an interactive essay. Students are required to augment the usual essay through the inclusion of embedded videos/animation/reference links to create and share knowledge.


Data Analysis

The qualitative data gathered was processed using the six-stage guidance proposed by Braun and Clarke (2006), to perform thematic analysis. The development of themes was data driven. The first action, after data was collected from questionnaires, interviews and focus group, was transcription of notes and audiodata. Once I had transcribed the notes, during the initial familiarisation of the qualitative data, the transcripts were read and re-read, and initial observations were noted. After initial processing, focused coding schemes were used to generate themes and record parts of each transcript that contained information related to students’ and staff perceptions on interactive essay.


Then the process of searching for key themes was performed. Jorgensen (1989) explains that the aim of this process, is to assemble or reconstruct the data in a meaningful or comprehensible fashion. However, this was a time-consuming process. To focus on producing a wellrepresented set of themes which link to the research aims and for in-depth results analysis, minor and non-recurrent themes were discarded at this stage. Meaningful themes were then refined and assembled further through a process of review into a set of clear related concepts and then defined and presented as final themes for inclusion in the report.


To display data in different ways, quantitative data produced from the questionnaires was processed using Excel and is presented using graphs and charts. Relevant direct quotes from the teachers and students will also be used for the reporting of the themes within the findings section of this report to increase


Findings and Discussion

reliability of the data. To maintain confidentiality and privacy of participants, I will reference the staff in the interviews as T1, T2, T3 and student participants will be referred to as Education Studies student or Event management and Hospitality student in accordance with the course that they study.


Ethical Considerations

This case study was carried out in line with the British Educational Research Association (2011). As an educational researcher BERA (2011) guidelines enabled me to recognise and conduct my research within an ethic, moral and legal respect. BERA (2011, p.7) states, ‘researchers should operate within an ethic of respect for any persons involved in the research they are undertaking’.


Following these guidelines, voluntary informed consent was sought from all the participants and, relevant and understandable language was used to debrief the participants explaining research incentive, thus ensuring openness and inclusive ethical concern practice. It is worth noting that there were no issues with respect for democratic values and language barriers within the selected sample.


The processing of personal information complied with the CBHE institution ethical guidelines. Within the university’s research framework is an Ethical Risk Factors Checklist, which was completed prior to conducting the case study, to reduce and address potential risk factors. Approval was then gained from Head of School, as well as the research supervisor and course leaders involved. A participation information sheet and a consent form were provided to all participants detailing the objectives of the case study, informing them of their rights as participants and what their participation would involve (see appendix 6 and 7).


The Participation Information sheet also explained that participation is voluntary – indicating the ‘Right to Withdraw’, which is a vital requirement of the ethical guidelines. Also, all the data collected from the CBHE remains confidential and anonymous, in compliance with Data Protection Act 1998. This was addressed as none of the participants’ personal information was included in the publication of findings and all data collected remained confidential and anonymous. As stated, the tutors in the interview were referred to as T1, T2 and T3, the student participant will be referred to as student 1, student 2 in the findings section, thus ensuring anonymity.


Questionnaires focus group and interview recordings – both paper and electronic are only accessible to the researcher and the research supervisor and remain stored in a password protected computer. All the data will be destroyed and deleted upon completion of two years of the research paper submission.


Findings and Discussion

An analysis of the views and experiences from the staff and students of the CBHE establishment provided an understanding of the effectiveness of interactive essay as an innovative assessment in higher education courses. The findings of this case study are presented into the 3 key themes identified, during the thematic data analysis.


Positive attitude

The interview with the staff commenced with a discussion regarding their perceptions about the interactive essay as a modern method of assessment. This provided an insight towards teachers’ opinions, regarding a new method of assessment, in comparison to the traditional essay. It was discovered that all three teachers thought that introducing a technology-infused assessment is a positive move and will offer alternative method for assessment for the contemporary learners, increasing choice and encouraging a shift away from the dominant traditional approaches to assessment.


Tutor 2: ’I think it’s a positive move I think I suppose I’m coming at it from not as a blanket approach but there has been for a while a need to have an alternative method for those students who struggle to say do a full dissertation or something like that in full written style.’ The findings from the questionnaire and focus group revealed similar responses. Quantitative data from the questionnaires suggested that despite receiving neutral response, when students were asked how they think the interactive essay compares to a traditional essay assessment. For this research it was important that the Education studies students attempted to augment the usual essay through the inclusion of embedded videos/animation/reference links. Results highlighted that most of the students used technologies when developing their interactive essays, only six students used Microsoft Word to complete their assessment.


This graph above supports this theme by showing the number of student participants that used technologies when designing their work. All the students had positive experiences of creating sharing networks for their work. Further responses include: ‘I loved every step when creating my interactive essay. This was because I was able to express my work in a manner I was most comfortable in. However, I did have difficulties in terms of choosing what platform would be best in terms of presenting my work because of all the various platforms available.’ and ‘I was happy and proud of myself as I learnt new things and gave me the choice in choosing what platforms I’m comfortable using’ (Education Studies students).


Student respondents from the focus group lacked confidence, initially, when describing their first impressions of the interactive essay as there was lack of clarity with regards the skills needed but after their tutor had presented them with a step by step guide to interactive essays, all six of them were excited to try it.


Student 1: ‘A bit scared not knowing how to do it may be but then after looking at it further it seemed quite easy to use and design one but until we do it we don’t really know how its gonna work out’


The interactive essay model as an assessment tool

When looking into the experiences of students having created the interactive essay. It was discovered that majority of the students agreed that the interactive essay could be used more widely as an assessment tool. Results from participants suggested that 100% of the tutors and Event management and hospitality students agreed that the interactive essay could be used more widely and improve assessment practice. Similarly, 50% of the Education Studies students supported this view.


The chart below supports this theme and highlights the quantitative data for the Education Study students’ responses when asked about interactive essay as a tool for assessment. However, whilst analysing the questionnaire data and interview transcripts, it was established that designing and marking an interactive essay can be more timeconsuming, in comparison to a traditional essay. Though it was interesting to note that tutors from different disciplines had different views on this.


As quoted by tutor 1 (Male – creator in the interactive essay model), ‘Its takes longer to mark as you can’t submit it through Turnitin so you have to create a separate portal for people to put that in.’ As quoted by tutor 2 (Female – Fine Art and Education Studies lecturer), ‘It is just that I am used to looking at different types of submissions / objects / artefacts for art students and so assessing according to weighting is easy for me – I can see how well the information is being communicated – see past the ‘decorative bits’ or ‘technology’ if you like.’


What was prominent in these findings overall, was the indication that participants acknowledged using multimedia is everywhere and that is how people widely access information. From analysing the data, it was discovered that participants accept technology presents a more sophisticated way of learning as growth in technology has influenced changes on how students think and present their work. However, questionnaire data revealed that only 17% of the respondents felt that the interactive essay model is a better assessment method in comparison to the traditional essay.


Evidence suggests that some participants still prefer writing a traditional essay because of their fear of technology hence, they feel more comfortable and confident with traditional methods of assessment.


Digital skills

When participants were asked to describe their digital skills before completing the interactive essay, most of the participants implied to be confident users of technology and multiple responses implied that everyone had basic computer knowledge and skills. During the process of conducting the research it was discovered that all the students and staff at the CBHE establishment had access to Wi-Fi, laptops and extra support was also offered via the academic staff and ilab at the campus.


Therefore, there were no issues of cost and access present. Responses from the focus group revealed that all six student participants were confident users of technology. Results from the questionnaire data similarly suggest that 45% of the students were confident users of technology and only 11% identified themselves as weak. Discussion with one tutor suggest that students require specific skills to incorporate videos and links. However, adequate support is available for students who were ambitious enough to try new technologies.


As quoted by Tutor 2, ‘I think one of the other big limitation in a sense is It’s a slightly kind of different set of skills that you need to embed, and incorporate videos and links and I don’t think we kind of refined the language or refined the skill set to do that yet.’ These findings suggest that traditional essays are a form of assessment that people used at a time where the only way to share information was via the written word.


The current progression of how we teach, learn, assess and share information, it would make sense that we use interactive essays. Interactive essays is designed to help people develop ideas in a format that can be read in-depth and at a distance and includes sharing formats through which people can make comments via comment boxes. When students and teachers are using all these different means to expand their knowledge and skills, that should be how we should access educational output as well.


Responses from the creator of the interactive essay model (Tutor1) revealed thought provoking remarks. He suggests that students use technology that they will use again. For example, it is very unlikely that students will write an essay again unless they choose to pursue further studies however, writing and editing blogs and presentations will be used more in retail or business work. He further explained that the skills involved in writing for multiple audiences can be easily transferred. This confirms that, having people read and give criticism and comments on your work is valuable and can help one develop.



  1. There was an overall case study which is the CBHE establishment, I have split that into two distinct disciplines – Education Studies and Events management and Hospitality but a bigger group could have been used. All the way through, more research could have been done at a wide scale, as interactive essay is a new method of assessment and it is still of limited use, but it is potentially going to be used in other disciplines. Perhaps the response has been different because the sample selected was predominantly female based. May be using other disciplines and a different demographic pattern will suggest different results.
  2. It would also be interesting to research why other disciplines like Law, choose not to include technology-infused assessments.
  3. Awarding bodies and academic institutions should acknowledge that digital assessments are growing therefore, there should be morals of practice in place to offer spaces to have developments for new practice for progression.



Innovative assessments are improving pedagogy for the 21st century learners, by opening a world of possibilities, through dialogue via networking and collaboration. Interactive essay is reflective of how technology is changing the forms of teaching, learning and of assessing. This case study looked at the teachers and students’ experiences when asked to include this in their practice. There has been a lot of change in education because of technology and through this study I was able to investigate what the students and staffs lived experiences were when asked to be engaged with a form of technology enhanced assessment.


To investigate the initial impressions of students that have not used interactive essays and evaluate the experiences of students who have used the interactive essays, qualitative data was gathered from a focus group with six students and questionnaires by eighteen students. The literature review suggested that a curriculum that is learner driven and is socially empowering will make students feel digitally competent. Findings suggested that there is a positive consensus, regarding the effectiveness of technology-infused assessments at the CBHE institution.


To conclude, interactive essays promote creativity and innovation; they can widen assessment practices and equip students with a range of skills and therefore, link with digital curriculum. If students are not given the opportunity to explore the true extent of their possibilities, they will always remain stagnant and not evolve.



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Though the following dissertation is an individual work, I could never have reached and explored the depths without the support, guidance and effort of a lot of people. Firstly, I would like to thank and dedicate this dissertation to my mentor Dr. Peter Shukie whose passion for teaching sets a new standard for anyone involved in education.


His infectious enthusiasm and unlimited zeal have been major driving forces through my under-graduate years, he has been a huge inspiration and given me the confidence to believe in myself. I would also like to thank all my friends and staff for their encouragement and advice. A huge thank you to my two daughters Alaina and Samarah and my son Aymaan, for being extremely patient during hours of ignorance and bearing with my stress and moods.


My sincere gratitude goes to my beloved parents and brother for their love, encouragement and prayers throughout this educational journey. I could not have done this without your support.


Hina Suleman
Student I.D: 20262368
University Centre at Blackburn College
April 2018


Author’s Declaration

I declare that the work in this dissertation was carried out in accordance with the regulations of Lancaster University. The work is original except where indicated by special references in the text and no part of the dissertation has been submitted for any other degree. Any views expressed in the dissertation are those of the author and in no way represent those of Lancaster University. The dissertation has not been presented to any other university for examination either in the United Kingdom or overseas.

Hina Suleman

Dated: 27 April 2018