Sep 08 2021

Students as partners in assessment

Paula Reilly, Director of Academic Services, explores the possibilities that might arrive should higher education include their students as partners when it comes to assessment. 
At its core, the purpose of a university is to educate, teach, and create new ways of thinking. When we take on our new university students of all ages each year, we want to share our experience of work and business with them to help them develop their own skillsets and graduate with something new to offer their current employers, future employers or even themselves. 

But with much of our student body already having a job, we know they have an additional challenge to their education, and this is also one challenge we feel we must add to our own list as well.

Here at Arden University we want to ensure our courses fit our students and future employers needs and expectations - otherwise, they won’t be able to fulfil their potential when they are tested and assessed. Assessment should be an opportunity for students to showcase their newly developed skills, review and learn from any mistakes made, and to also receive praise and recognition for their knowledge, understanding and achievements.

It might seem like an odd concept, but at Arden University we believe there should be a joy in assessment. 

It is because of this that we are constantly reviewing how we can put the joy back into assessment by using the flexibility of the Arden University way of learning to help education fit with the lives of our students, not ask them to mould their lives around our courses and assessment.

Recently, Helen Scott (Pro Vice Chancellor Academic), Liz Ellis (Head of School Digital Education) and myself took part in the Advance HE Students as Partners in Assessment collaborative event - a series of webinars and workshops bringing together staff and students from HE providers from around the world to share experiences and initiatives and generate conversations about how students can and should become partners in assessment. 

Following this event we are taking action to make the following core to the way we teach:

Arden University will always keep an open dialogue with students on assessment 

We are determined to break down the barriers and anxiety that many students experience when it comes to assessment and the first step towards this is to open up the conversation with students re. assessment – making it less scary and daunting for them. For example, we want students to let us know if they are under time pressure from work or home so that we can provide support and guidance to enable them to manage their assessments around their busy lives. 

We believe this is one of the most effective ways we, as educators, tutors and lecturers can bring students into the conversations about assessment. 
Arden University will always value and act upon student feedback

Alongside the development and relaunch of our Arden University Student Association (AUSA) we are seeking to include students as partners in all aspects of university life. We are working with AUSA to ensure that there is student representation on all governance committees and quality enhancement working groups, valuing the contribution that students can make and providing opportunities for the student voice to be heard and listened to. 

Arden University has established an Assessment Working Group (AWG)

We have set up the Assessment Working Group – it is a collaborative cross functional group of colleagues who meet regularly to enhance and improve all elements of the assessment experience at Arden University. Student reps are an essential and integral part of the working group, working alongside University academic and professional services colleagues - this is helping us to react quickly to the rapidly changing pressures placed on students and staff re. all aspects related to assessment. 
One example of this recently has been the task force established from AWG to improve TCA operations. 
By using the research from students (gathered by Mark Harrison, Computing Student Rep) Arden University has made the following changes:

 1.    Published an annual calendar of TCAs - enabling students to schedule TCA assessments into their lives further in advance i.e. arrange childcare, book time off work etc.

2.    Reviewed the use of exam / TCA as assessment methods by academic module leaders. Resulting in 30% fewer assessments assessed by exam or TCA. We found exams and TCAs are less convenient for students to complete, so by doing this, Arden University has reduced the logistics burden on students in completing their assessments.

3.    Improved communications (method and frequency) with students regarding TCA dates etc.

4.    Provided additional support to students studying exams / TCAs through a variety of mechanisms including poster advice, FAQs, video tutorials, drop-in support sessions, out of hours meetings with tutors etc.
Arden University’s new programmes will be designed and launched with ‘authentic’ assessment to prepare students for real world scenarios. 

By doing this Arden University will better enable students to express their understanding and knowledge through application. Our academic programmes are moving away from the traditional final ‘essay style’ dissertation assessment method towards much more practical work-based Live Consultancy type projects which will enable students to really apply what they have learned and see an immediate impact of their learning in their current workplace or a workplace they choose to study. 

Arden University will continually explore more digital forms of assessment 

We are currently exploring a variety of digital assessment tools to enable us to facilitate online exams, to provide much more convenience to students as they do not need to travel to a specified location to sit a face-to-face exam as well as providing other benefits such as more efficient methods of marking and assessing student work for academic staff. 

As educators we’re constantly looking at ways to make learning at Arden University better for our students. Whether that is creating courses that impress current or future employers or making it easier for students to take those courses and fit them within their lives, rather than making their lives fit their courses. That is why we’ll keep working to add new initiatives as we progress with our students, not apart from them.

About the author:
Paula Reilly is Director of Academic Services at Arden University.
Paula has worked for Arden University (formerly RDI) for over 15 years having previously worked in senior management in manufacturing operations and supply chain manufacturing industries.  Paula started at Arden as Academic Lecturer, moving into Academic Programme management and more recently Academic professional services management as well as leading on Assessment and New Programme Development for the University. Paula is a FHEA and has more recently achieved CMI Chartered Manager status.