Dare to evolve: Reassessing assessments in business schools

As business school educators, we have a great opportunity to help students  obtain their most desirable post-study career move, and enhance the careers of those already in employment and engaging in part time studies. How can we do this beyond delivering inspiring and impactful teaching? Through the assessments we set.


Over the last two decades, we have designed, developed, and launched cutting-edge assessments that focus students’ attention, effort, and time on acquiring critical and transferrable skills and competencies that enhance students’ employability across a range of sectors. We consider assessments to have the potential to be vehicles of change for our students. Interesting, exciting, and relevant assessments should be able to unlock current and future opportunities for students in the form of placements, internships, research opportunities, start-up affiliations and career advancement.


If we think about other disciplines, such as architecture[1] and engineering[2], students will often work on assignments and projects that ‘visibilise’ their knowledge and skills through the creation of physical objects and artifacts. By going beyond traditional assessment methods such as essays, business reports and in-class presentations, business school educators can also enable students to create ‘showcase pieces’ that anchor students’ capabilities, intellectually and practically, in tangible outputs that can be easily shared with wider communities, including current and potential employers. In our experience, the use of digital tools and platforms is the key to leapfrogging assessment design.


Innovation in digital assessment design

During the last few years, we have designed and developed multiple innovative group-based and individual assessments for students on business and management programmes. These assessments lead to digitised and web-based outputs which can be easily shared with relevant others, while also ensuring that students acquire a multitude of essential digital skills. In the following, we share two assessment case examples that we have designed and used at UCL and Hult-Ashridge International Business School, respectively.


Case example I: The Digital Debate assessment

The Digital Debate assessment is given as part of an undergraduate module on Digital Strategy & Transformation at UCL’s School of Management. Students work individually to develop a critical debate on a selected topic (i.e., AI in Healthcare, Digital Transformation of Education, or Evolution of Smart Cities), ignited by a debate question that encourages students to discuss ‘for’ and ‘against’. As part of their debate, students also consider how organisations can deliver on UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (e.g., goals, targets, and indicators for UN SDG 4 ‘Quality Education’, UN SDG 3 ‘Good Health and Well-being’ and UN SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities). This is an important component as business schools should look to increase their engagement with the UN SDGs through the curriculum and assessments.


Upon researching the newest developments in the selected topic area, identifying data trends from reliable sources, and engaging with the latest academic research, students develop multiple videos of themselves discussing and debating selected key issues. Students use digital tools such as Loom, iMovie, Adobe and Lumen5 to design and develop their videos, adding in content, imagery, and data visuals. In addition to the videos, students design an infographic with Canva or Genially, and three data visualisations, typically with Flourish, to add further context and insight to the chosen topic.


The videos, infographic, data visualisations and 1,000 words of written content are all brought together on a web-based platform, such as Wix, creating a digital exhibition space for students’ research, reflections, and arguments. This digital space can be made available to students’ professional network, e.g., on LinkedIn, on their CVs and shared directly with potential employers to showcase their critical thinking, analytical skills and digital competencies. By setting the debate topics on scenarios that are future-focused, students can share their output with potential employers and others, and demonstrate cutting-edge insight into quite complex societal domains.


There is no doubt that this kind of assessment is demanding for students. It is an assessment format they are relatively unfamiliar with; they have to learn to use multiple digital tools and platforms, and they have to move from ‘behind the screen’ to in front of the camera. However, it is often when presented with a new experience that we grow, learn, and stretch ourselves and this can be done with a safety net of support and guidance.


Case example II: The Multi-Mode assessment

This assessment was designed for a module on Brand Management, delivered as part of a Degree Apprenticeship programme for experienced professionals at Hult-Ashridge International Business School. Students on this programme are typically middle- to senior managers who lead teams. They are considered their organisation’s ‘next-generation’ leaders.


In this assessment, students are required to produce a management proposal for a brand extension for their organisation. Instead of confining students to a set submission mode, they are given a choice to submit their work in the form of a written proposal, a video-based pitch, or an interactive website. By giving students choice, they gain a level of empowerment over the assessment experience and can select a format which best helps them to present their proposal. For the creation of the video pitch, students typically use tools such as Loom, Clipchamp and iMovie to overlay content and imagery into their video to aid their pitch. For the website, students choose Wix or Canva, the latter which can quickly turn a slide deck into a website with interactivity built in. Students participate in a dedicated virtual workshop where they learn how to use these essential digital platforms and tools, building their confidence and capabilities.


Acquiring these essential digital skills through their assessments helps them become digital champions in their own organisations, useful when managing geographically and virtually dispersed teams. Importantly, the work that is undertaken as part of the assessments can be shared and presented to a wider audience, including senior managers, which helps to drive change in their own organisation and the wider professional community.


Real-world relevance

We strongly believe that assessment design in business schools need to, not only, test students’ acquired subject knowledge, but need to be platforms for students to showcase their expertise, creativity, and digital competencies. The Digital Debate assessment is an example of how we use assessments to help the future generation of leaders and decision-makers enhance their employability and showcase their talents. For the Multi-Mode assessment for experienced practitioners and senior leaders, the focus is more on enhancing their professional competencies and internal visibility.


As educators we need to dare to experiment with assessments and be willing to test, trial and evolve them. We need to be comfortable setting assessments where there is room for a degree of surprise, for students to innovate and go beyond our expectations. Digital tools and platforms are central to this transformation.


In a world where accelerated education needs to be inserted alongside our personal and professional lives, assessments do not have to follow the traditional modes and the rigidity that we are accustomed to. With a multitude of digital tools and platforms available, educators have a great opportunity to ensure assessments are aligned to real-world challenges, and enhance skills and competencies that help future leaders and business professionals move forward.


Dr Mike Cooray is Professor of Strategy and Transformation at Hult International Business School (Ashridge); Dr Rikke Duus is Associate Professor and Research Fellow at UCL School of Management.

[1] An example of this is The Bartlett B-Pro Show and The Bartlett Autumn Show: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/architecture/news/2022/aug/save-date-bartlett-b-pro-show-and-bartlett-autumn-show

[2] An example of this is the UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering third year Undergraduate student showcase: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/electronic-electrical-engineering/news/2022/mar/eee-students-showcase-their-innovative-research