‘Assessment is a fundamental aspect of the student experience. Engagement in assessment activities and interaction with staff and peers enables learning, both as part of the task and through review of their performance. It is a vehicle for obtaining feedback’ (QAA 2018: 2).
Assessment has received a lot of attention since the Covid19 pandemic and many HE institutions have moved assessment online. Assessment was already at the heart of UCEM’s pedagogic approach (SOLD) – see ‘Designing modules: our educational framework’ (Lindsay 2019) – and assessment at UCEM was already, largely, online. The assignment briefs or computer marked assessment (CMAs) are made available to students via the VLE and students submit their responses via the VLE.
In 2021 UCEM undertook a detailed review of assessment types/methods/approaches. There were discussions of place – in person or online, format – such as video, marking, and platform, etc. This was, and is, exciting. However, my role is to ensure quality standards are maintained and without wanting to squash any enthusiasm for change, I did want to check how our ideas aligned with those of our students.
Research shows that involving students in the design of learning – including assessment – can enhance student engagement and deepen learning (Adie 2019; Davies 2013) and QAA recommends students get involved (QAA no date). UCEM already involves students as partners (UCEM 2022), including student reps and ambassadors, and holds widescale consultations. However, there was nothing easily accessible to the Digital Education team for use when designing learning. Several universities have student consultation panels to serve this purpose with tried and tested success rates, such as the Open University (Rowland 2021).
The UCEM Digital Education team has now joined the HE student consultation panel club with the Learning experience student panel (see Figure 1).
Our student volunteers sign up to be contacted at regular intervals (approximately every two months) for specific consultations. The consultations should require no more than an hour per consultation. Results from the consultations are anonymous and the volunteers are informed that any feedback they give will have no impact on their study results.
The consultations are online, individual and asynchronous. The main thrust of all Learning experience student panel consultations is that they feed into the design of modules and assessment at the time of development, i.e. before delivery. The panel should not duplicate or replace existing means of gathering student feedback, e.g. module evaluation questionnaires.
Each consultation is open for two weeks. Once closed, the results are analysed and a summary of themes created. The themes are sent to the volunteers along with a brief explanation of what will happen as a result of their feedback. The themes are also shared with staff.
The first three consultations ran between December 2021 and May 2022. I led the pilot with the help of a small number of colleagues – thank you – and, of course, thank you to our students.
- The first consultation asked students generally about their approach to assessment and what could be improved.
- The second asked for ideas to improve the way in which assessment week content is presented.
- The third requested feedback on mock-ups of redesigned assessment weeks on the VLE.
While the panel is currently small (nine volunteers), the responses received have been extremely insightful. Some of themes were:
- Favourite assessment involves real-life tasks of relevance to students’ geographical location and is achievable in the allotted time.
- Assessment instructional language (e.g. critically analyse) is not always familiar to students.
- Students want to be able to find assessment information easily, particularly the assignments themselves. Having everything in one place is helpful.
- Most used the assessment discussion forums on the VLE.
- Some suggested a progress checklist / being able to track progress through activities can help them work towards their assessment.
- Not all students use the full range of assessment support information provided, e.g. submission guidance.
- Some students use the learning outcomes and grading criteria as a checklist, some don’t use them at all.
- All information relating to assessment needs to be well structured, clear and concise.
- The dates for both submission (or open and close dates for CMAs) and feedback/results should be visible without having to expand anything on the VLE.
- Direct links to assessment weeks which contain all the assessment information are useful.
To date, between December 2021 and June 2022, the responses from the UCEM Learning experience student panel have fed into the following pieces of work:
- Authoring assessment for Spring and Autumn 2022.
- The UCEM assessment design principles and ‘Assessment baseline and baseline plus standards’. These are intended for staff to use as a framework when authoring assessment.
- A new resource ‘Assessment success’ intended for students but equally useful for assessment authors. It explains the structure of assignments and CMAs, explains the marking criteria, and explains assessment instruction words such as ‘analyse’ and ‘critically evaluate’.
- Repositioning of the ‘Mark as done’ progress tracking feature on modules.
- Simplifying the assignment template to make task requirements more accessible.
- Restructuring and simplifying assessment preparation weeks on modules, for both tutor marked assignments and computer marked assessment.
- Have the consultation panel become a standard part of UCEM module and assessment development.
- Clarify the topics of future consultations to ensure fit with UCEM learning and teaching strategies.
- Encourage more students to get involved.
- Bring in more staff to help with the management of the panel.
- Publicise the availability of the consultation panel for use in the development of modules and assessment.
- Share the findings more widely internally and externally…
Adie M (2019) ‘Bringing students to the table’, in QAA [blog], 30 April. Available at: www.qaa.ac.uk/news-events/blog/bringing-students-to-the-table [accessed 6 June 2022].
Davies S (2013) ‘Students as change agents’, in Jisc student experience blog [blog], 10 May. Available at: https://elearning.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2013/05/10/students-as-change-agents/ [accessed 6 June 2022].
Lindsay K (2019) ‘Designing modules: our educational framework’, in Online Education blog [blog]. Available at: https://blog.ucem.ac.uk/onlineeducation/posts/937 [accessed 6 June 2022].
QAA (no date) ‘How can students get involved in quality assurance?’, Students [online]. Available at: www.qaa.ac.uk/about-us/who-we-work-with/students [accessed 6 June 2022].
QAA (2018) UK Quality Code for Higher Education: Advice and Guidance (Assessment) [online]. Available at: www.qaa.ac.uk/quality-code/advice-and-guidance/assessment [accessed 6 June 2022].
Rowland O (2021) ‘Feedback loops: reflecting on five years of feedback from the curriculum design student panel’, in OU Learning Design team blog, [blog] 28 June. Available at: www.open.ac.uk/blogs/learning-design/?p=1081 [accessed 6 June 2022].
UCEM (2022) ‘Students as partners’, Our community [online]. Available at: www.ucem.ac.uk/students-as-partners/ [accessed 6 June 2022].
Photo by Oluwakemi Solaja on Unsplash. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/ZN52ZBFkw4Y [accessed 6 June 2022].