Head of School Blog: Setting the assessment calendar
In a blink of an eye, term has not only started, but we are fast approaching the mid-way point of semester 1 and with that, the onset of the first assessments of the academic year. I was speaking to some of you this week and the issue of assessment deadlines came up, with complaints about early assessments in some modules. It became apparent that as students, you have no understanding of how assessment deadlines are set – because we had never sought to explain the process! This blog aims to rectify that and explain the process of setting our assessment schedule. It is an incredibly important task at the beginning of the academic year and one that is done in consultation with all staff.
Each course goes through a validation process every 4/5 years and as part of that, it is agreed how many assessments each module should have and what these assessments should be e.g. coursework, presentation, exam. Each year, an assessment schedule is set at course level which states when each assessment should be handed in. This is published to all of you at the beginning of the academic year so that you can plan your workload accordingly. We are consequently, very reluctant to deviate from this schedule and will do so only in exceptional circumstances.
So, how is it set? Well, we have to wait for Jupiter to align with Mars and then with a neap tide and the sun rising in the east … No, it may seem that we leave it to fate but nothing is further from the truth.
In July this year, we had a staff development day during which we began to consider the 17/18 academic calendar.
In true Blue Peter style, the teaching timetable for each year of each course was put onto foam board and stuck up on the walls. Push-pins were then given to staff with a different colour representing each type of assessment (red for coursework, yellow for presentation etc). Module teams then put the pins onto the teaching timetable where they wanted their assessment deadlines to fall. So far so good.
We then stood back and looked at the teaching timetable and the spread of the pins representing the assessment deadlines. Inevitably, a lot of the pins were bunched together as most modules want to have a mid-assessment point and an end of assessment point. However, overlapping assessment deadlines is one of the main things that you complain about, understandably, as this causes undue stress as you are unable to commit adequate time to each assessment. The purpose of the foam boards and push-pins is therefore to ensure an even spread of assessment, throughout each course, over the academic year. This allows you to give due attention to each assessment and reduces the stress experienced when multiple assessments fall on the same date/week.
Having considered the initial spread of pins, each course team then sought to re-position some pins so there was a spread of assessments throughout the academic year, reducing bunching of assessment as much as is possible. Module teams negotiate as to who does what and when. Compromise is key and the student experience is paramount. In doing this, staff know that whilst the deadline may not be ideal if we take the module in isolation, it is in the best place that it can be when we consider your workload over the course of the year. You do not study one module at a time!
The push-pins and the foam boards are then translated onto a paper timetable and sent around to all staff for further consultation and comment. Some more negotiation and tweaking occurs. The schedule is then set and published to all of you.
So, it is a consultative process and every member of staff is invited to contribute and agrees on the deadlines. By publishing the schedule at the start of the academic year, you can plan your workload and staff can ensure that appropriate material is covered for the assessment questions that they set.
Whilst we seek perfection, I have no doubt that we inevitably fall short. We know that we can always improve and we always seek to do so. We will take into account your feedback in setting the deadlines for next year – so let us know!
If there is anything else that you would like me to explain by way of a blog then email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Onwards and upwards …