What and When

Background

The original SPARK was developed by a multidisciplinary team in the late 1990s at the University of technology Sydney (UTS). Since 2003 Associate Professor Mark Freeman (also chief architect and developer of the original SPARK), Associate Professor Keith Willey and Dr Darrall Thompson began building a new version of SPARK that would provide more functionality, features and provide students with better feedback.

In using this version circa 2008 our focus changed from making group work fairer (something the tool does automatically with careful implementation) to using it to produce both formative and summative learning-oriented feedback to complete the learning cycle and encourage the ongoing development of skills (see references Willey, K. & Freeman M, 2006 a and b).

In 2008 Associate Professor Keith Willey assisted by Mike Howard began to expand the available functionality to include additional features to support collaborative learning in learning-orientated instructional activities, including self and peer assessment of individual work and benchmarking. This development was informed by research conducted by Associate Professor Keith Willey and Dr Anne Gardner.

The new tool combining the above-mentioned work has been called SPARKPLUS.

SPARKPLUS was initially trialled at seven Australian Universities and a number of overseas institutions. It is now available for use and is currently being used by staff at many Australian and international institutions. This project is self funding and the fees for using SPARKPLUS are available under the licensing tab. If you would like to know more about SPARKPLUS please contact us.

Recommendations for Success

  1. Well designed learning/assessment activity
  2. Assessment criteria relevant and customised to learning task
  3. Students appreciate reasons for assessed task
  4. SPARKPLUS and criteria accessible from beginning of group task
  5. All staff involved in subject support benefits of group assessed projects/tasks
  6. All staff involved in subject appreciate SPARKPLUS process
  7. Staff provided with resources and training in both the operation of the program, facilitation of collaborative peer learning objectives and ability to explain and interpret assessment factors.
  8. Supportive academic environment
  9. Strategies for supporting student group learning in place
  10. Assessment aligned with course objectives
  11. Adequate time for students to reflect and enter ratings

Role in curriculum design

SPARKPLUS has been designed to improve students' learning from both formative and summative assessed group tasks and to improve both students' and lecturers' confidence in and satisfaction with the process of assigning group marks. Specific ways in which SPARKPLUS can contribute to the curriculum include:

  • adjust team / group assessment marks to fairly reflect individual contributions
  • leverage development of graduate attributes. eg, professional skills including judgement, teamwork, communication, collaboration, reflection
  • assists academics’ to critically evaluate their learning tasks
  • support both criteria based and holistic assessment
  • allow collection of student ratings in a secure, confidential, flexible online environment
  • enable self and peer assessment in any subject area
  • provide summative or formative assessment and feedback
  • implement sound educational research for group-based learning and assessment
  • allow efficient, accurate and subtle data analysis in a highly resource constrained environment
  • By using criteria categories assist academics to reflective develop criteria to achieve desired learning outcomes.