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Professor Michael Whitby
PVC Teaching & Learning, University of Warwick

Warwick’s approach to teaching and learning is based on the principles of excelling at both research and teaching and of preparing its students for the challenges of active citizenship, leadership and employment in the global economy. In all respects – in our curricula and teaching methods, in assessment, in arranging collaborative and other external pedagogic opportunities, in the design of learning spaces – we aim to be an innovator, a university that other institutions will turn to for ideas and seek to emulate. The challenge for staff and students is constant, but that contributes to the buzz of belonging to a vibrant entrepreneurial community in which mediocrity, complacency and resistance to change are unacceptable.

As an institution we are currently reflecting, in the context of our Vice Chancellor Nigel Thrift’s Warwick Futures initiative, on what should characterise a Warwick education and what are the attributes of a Warwick student. Disciplinary rigour is clearly a given in our departments which rightly pride themselves on training the next generation of the academy, and this also contributes importantly to the development of general skills.  But breadth of knowledge and vision is also essential, and here we confront a challenge of crating space within suitably flexible curricula to encourage students to widen their experience.

These reflections entail careful thought about assessment, its format, quantity, timing, and about feedback, its quality, promptness, relevance.  Assessment and feedback have emerged in the National Student Survey, and other samples of student opinion, as the area of greatest concern for students in the UK, and Warwick should be in the forefront of the drive for improvement.  Because we know the impact that assessment has on student priorities for learning, too often in the past we have locked ourselves into a cycle of more frequent and detailed assessments without sufficient reflection on the specific benefits to be gained from each extra element, or whether we as teachers can actually cope with what we are asking students to produce.  Last summer, the previous Vice Chancellor David VandeLinde held a meeting of Heads of Department to discuss assessment at Warwick. Against this background, the current issue of Interactions is most timely and should, I hope, contribute to our deliberations by publicising different departmental initiatives.

In this issue, a range of aspects of assessment practice are addressed. In the first article, Kevin Moffat describes the rationale, challenges and lessons learned in a collaborative development between Leicester, Newcastle and Warwick. He critically explores the experiences of using online discussion forums to support students’ higher level learning and inclusiveness and offer a set of practical guidelines for a model of online assessment. 

The second article by Jonathan Stevens and colleagues explores the issues in balancing student responsibility for learning and assessment methodologies in a technology-supported environment. He presents an approach developed in partnership between Warwick and Amsterdam to establishing, then enforcing, shared responsibility while simultaneously building confidence with technologies. 

The third article by Rob Johnson describes how development of an online tool to support researchers’ interactive skills has impacted on the transition for students of becoming undergraduate historians. 

The final two articles present work currently under development. Both offer interesting insights into new assessment practices being explored. Firstly, Trevor Hawkes gives an account of the complexities, but also some solutions, for web-based assessment, particularly based around the challenges that mathematical and other subject specific symbols presents. Secondly, Christine Coe, social studies faculty e-learning adviser in IT Services’ Elab, presents an overview of developments to date in facilities for electronic submission of assessed work. She has been working with a number of departments to pilot e-submissions and gathered their views and experiences on the implications that this facility has on assessment policy and practice.



Dr Jay Dempster
Deputy Director
Centre for Academic and Professional Development
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 24 7652 4670

Citation for this Editorial
Whitby, M. (2007) Editorial. Warwick Interactions Journal 29. Accessed online at:
(Accessed )