Bolton College FirstPass platform awarded funding as part of £1 million Assessment Innovation Fund | NCFE

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Bolton College FirstPass platform awarded funding as part of £1 million Assessment Innovation Fund

Bolton College, a leading further education college in the North West, has been awarded funding through our Assessment Innovation Fund to test its FirstPass platform, in a move that could revolutionise assessment models in England.  

The 15-month pilot will test the efficacy and impact of using this online platform to support learners and teachers with the formative assessment of open-ended questions. FirstPass offers real-time feedback to learners as they compose their answers, allowing them to reflect and improve upon their work before submitting it to their teachers for final review and commentary. 

It also marks an important step in the development of automated marking, as well as supporting learners with special educational needs, including autism.   

The grant is part of our Assessment Innovation Fund, which will see £1 million worth of funding go towards supporting organisations in piloting new approaches to assessment and explore innovative uses of technology.  

Aftab Hussain, ILT and LRC Manager at Bolton College, said: “Colleagues at Bolton College are delighted to have the support from NCFE to pilot FirstPass with other further education colleges in the UK.  

“The Assessment Innovation Fund gives us a wonderful opportunity to test the efficacy of using artificial intelligence to support the formative assessment of open-ended questions.” 

A group of individuals standing for a picture on an office rooftop

Left to right: Fahad Mohamed (E-Learning Instructional Design Leader), Dave Harrison (Systems Developer), Gray Mytton (Assessment Innovation Manager at NCFE), Bill Webster (Principal at Bolton College), Jonathan Hart (Systems Developer), Caroline Hurst (E-Learning Instructional Designer), Dean Baggaley (Systems Development Leader), Tommy Maher (E-Learning Instructional Designer).

Bolton College will deploy the FirstPass platform across five of their own curriculum departments which will be matched with departments at five additional colleges to assess the overall effectiveness and impact of the platform in enhancing learning.  

Teachers across all six institutions will use FirstPass to set and mark formative assessments and check understanding and knowledge retention.  

Some early feedback on the platform shows promising results: 

  • Learners stated that they wrote more when they used FirstPass and their answers were of a higher quality 
  • Learners said that FirstPass will help them prepare for open-ended exam questions  
  • The Head of Learner Support at Bolton College stated that FirstPass is a good tool to support autistic students because they will respond more readily to the real-time feedback that is provided by FirstPass. 
  • Learners like using the hint tool on the feedback panel; hints (authored by teachers), provide additional guidance to learners which helped them to compose their answers.  

The pilot will conduct qualitative and quantitative surveys to capture learner perceptions of the FirstPass platform. 

Jessica Blakey, our Head of Assessment Innovation, said: “We’re delighted to be awarding this funding to advance the models of assessment to meet the needs of learners in the future.  

“The education landscape is diverging, and it is our goal to be at the forefront of sector-leading advancements, which will create great change for education as we know it. Bolton College’s FirstPass platform has shown promising results to date, and we hope this new pilot will further enhance this model.”  

The funding will build on work by Bolton College to further develop the FirstPass platform, which has already attracted funding from the Department for Education’s EdTech Innovation Fund in 1999 (when in the early stages of development) and from the Ufi VocTech Trust in 2020 to increase the scale of the solution.  

Pheeba Baxendale, Teacher at Bolton College, said: “As a teacher, the biggest challenge is getting on top of your marking. FirstPass has resolved that because it does the marking for me, and it gives immediate feedback to my learners.” 

Callum Bagot, a learner at Bolton College, said: “I like FirstPass because it gives me feedback straight away, which lets me improve my work before I hand it to my teacher.” 

You can learn more about our Assessment Innovation Fund and how to apply for funding. A further round of funding will be opening week commencing 8 August 2022.

The Assessment Innovation Fund gives us a wonderful opportunity to test the efficacy of using artificial intelligence to support the formative assessment of open-ended questions.

Aftab Hussain, ILT and LRC Manager at Bolton College
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