The EQAL (Enhancing Quality of Assessment for Learning, we do like our acronyms) process has placed some constraints on modular structure, which has made it easier to take stock of institutional processes. By restricting the number of summative assessments permitted per unit, and the number of optional units, in one year we have moved from having around 3800 different assignments at level 4 to having just over 1000. This will clearly have an effect on the administration of assignments and was intended to allow staff to spend more time on teaching and formative assessment as well as to reduce pressure on students.
The new unit database also allows us to review patterns in assessment: for instance, if we compare assignment types for 2010/11 with 2011/12, the percentage of exams and tests at level 4 has gone up slightly (22% rather than 19% of the total number of assignments), whilst 10% of assignments are now identified as essays compared to 24% in 2010/11 and the percentage of portfolio assessments has increased from 3% to 16%, making portfolios the most common form of assessment at level 4. It should be stressed that these are not exact like-for-like comparisons, as there have also been changes in the way that data is captured, but they are reasonable approximations.
With this kind of information, we can open discussions with programme teams about the impact of the Employability Curriculum Framework on the balance of assessments, and also focus the effort of the TRAFFIC project on the more frequently used types of assignment task, aiming to answer questions such as:
- What are the most effective ways of giving feedback on essays? Can technology be used to support these?
- What kind of feedback can be provided on tests and exams? What processes would underpin giving this feedback and is it feasible to do it?
- How long should feedback on presentations take to deliver? On dissertations? Can ‘one size’ of ‘turnround’ time really fit all assignments? How could we support the turnround process using technology?
- What are the different types of portfolios and how should they be supported?
It is clear from the report that there is inconsistency in the ways in which information about assignment tasks, submission, feedback and moderation is recorded and communicated to students. This can lead to confusion for students, administrative staff and academic staff. We think that a consistent template for assignment briefs is needed, supported by clear guidance on assignment task design and size, developing appropriate assessment criteria, and best practice on feedback and moderation for different types of task. Recording of information about assignment briefs needs to be incorporated into annual updates of unit information. It is always a challenge to develop a consistent way of recording information which does not constrain academic judgement and the project team will need to involve academic staff from a wide range of disciplines in order to ensure that any proposed template is able to effectively capture their assessment practice. The Assessment Community of Practice is likely to be very involved with this: please visit the Assessment CoP page for information about joining and participating in the work.