The Assessment and Feedback dimension of the National Student Survey (NSS) is low scoring across the sector, and is an area BU aims to improve. The data collected by the Students Union at BU through the SimOn survey indicates that assessment and feedback are priority concerns of students. In order to make a case for TEF Gold in the future, change is required. The Centre for Excellence in Learning (CEL) designated 2017-18 as a Year of Assessment and Feedback, with review and revision of Principles of Assessment Design policy 6c as a priority with a Theme Leader post allocated to lead this project. To ascertain the evidence base for assessment regulation, change narratives provided by universities achieving Gold in the TEF were read. CEL colleagues drew on the pedagogical literature on assessment and feedback, and consulted Professor Dai Hounsell, a world-leading expert in assessment and feedback.
A working group was established at the beginning of 2017-18 with representation from Faculties, Professional Services, Students Union and Academic Quality, led by Anne Quinney on behalf of CEL, mirroring the process successfully employed when 6F (Generic Assessment Criteria) was updated in 2016.
The review of the BU assessment policy was informed by the Higher Education Academy’s (now called Advance HE) assertion that “assessment practices in most universities have not kept pace with the vast changes in the context, aims and structure of higher education. They can no longer do justice to the outcomes we expect from a university education in relation to wide-ranging knowledge, skills and employability ” (Ball et al 2012 p7). The HEA recommended “a radical rethink of assessment practices and regulations” and a “holistic and proactive approach” (Ball et al 2012 p8).
Key principles underpinning the policy change.
- Increase student achievement, improve retention and progression, and raise student satisfaction through the reduction of the summative assessment workload on both students and staff by creating opportunities for effective learning
- An increased focus from assessment of learning to assessment for learning, through formative assessment tasks in which students develop assessment literacy and become more active learners by taking responsibility for self-evaluation and development of their learning through increased feed forward. The Generic Assessment Criteria are a useful tool to support this.
- Development of authentic, discipline-relevant and profession-relevant assessments based on sound pedagogic principles that enable students to demonstrate their achievement of level and programme outcomes, through a broader ‘menu’ of more innovative assessment tasks. This requires the rationalisation of the volume and number of assessment tasks at each level.
- Recognise the role that technology enhanced learning and assessment tools can play, for example in developing and reinforcing learning and in different forms of exams. BU defines exams as time-limited assessments, which can take a variety of forms (e.g. traditional handwritten exams, timed essays, oral exams/vivas, computer-assisted exams, two-stage exams, open-book exams). BU promotes alternatives to traditional handwritten exams, by expecting a wider range of time-limited assessment tasks and retaining traditional hand-written exams only where there is a PSRB requirement or other context-driven requirement.
Inclusive assessment practices and options for integrated programme level assessment are embedded in the changes. The changes to assessment policy and practice will have an impact on every unit of study at every level (UGT and PGT, levels 4 to 7) and will require reviewing and updating all units of study.
This is the first in a series of blog posts, in a series called the “Summer of 6c”, to inform all staff about the changes to assessment policy and to alert them to resources to support the change.
The second blog post will set out the key policy changes.
CEL Theme Leader