Leveraging the pandemic response to ensure a legacy for assessment and feedback practice

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for transformational changes in education, with institutions adopting innovative measures to support students during these unprecedented times.  This blog shares how a large department in a triple accredited business school navigated the complexities of the pandemic to implement changes in assessment and feedback systems, resulting in improvements in student outcomes.

At the institutional level, the pandemic necessitated swift and temporary changes to the curriculum delivery model using: extensions management; marking; and degree calculations. Institutions shifted to facilitate social distancing and varied teaching formats. Covid-19 showed that higher education can be adaptable and responsive to unforeseen challenges.

The department in focus, boasts a comprehensive and varied portfolio, encompassing undergraduate, postgraduate, apprenticeship, and executive education courses, with a student body of over 1500. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the institution implemented a shift from a two-term model to a six-week block format, which meant teaching and delivery were condensed into six-week intervals. As a result, the department had to revise their curriculum and assessment methods to accommodate the changes.

As leaders in assessment, we substantially redesigned the department’s curriculum and assessment methods, resulting in a new assessment strategy and feedback policy. The crisis led to innovation and sustained new practices, including the introduction of a holistic assessment strategy to better support staff and students. The department leaders emphasised the need to ensure their responses to the assessment and feedback challenges posed by the pandemic were sustained and not merely short-term emergency measures. In turn these measures have led to a legacy of improved assessment and feedback practices. This has brought about significant benefits for both the department staff and its students, with the latter experiencing better and more effective feedback mechanisms that have improved their learning outcomes. By prioritising sustainable changes to assessment and feedback practices, the department assessment leaders have demonstrated their commitment to ongoing improvement and has established a solid foundation for future endeavours in this area.

 

The innovation and sustained practice included:

 

  1. A new department assessment strategy:

We developed a bespoke assessment strategy moving beyond the quality assurance processes and calling for inclusive approaches to assessment, international global case studies and industry informed assessments.

  1. A feedback and feedforward policy

All units in the department now have a consistent feedback approach that includes three good things, three areas for improvement, and hyperlinked resources such as library workshops and study skills guides. As a result, satisfaction scores for assessment have increased since 2020, with recent internal survey data (March 2023) showing the department having the highest feedback satisfaction score in the business school.

  1. Streamlining of assessments to reduce student and staff workload

The department has made a conscious effort to streamline assessments, reducing the number of assessment points and focusing on quality outcomes. This has reduced the workload for both students and staff, with the total number of assessments decreasing from 387 in 2021/22 to 250 in 2023/24.

  1. Flexibility and agility in assessment design

Online timed exams were introduced during the pandemic and have continued to be used. The department now has a flexible approach to assessment processes, allowing for easier changes to assessment descriptions. Assessment approval is fluid and responsive, thanks to internal moderators and external examiners, while only the assessment method (coursework or exam) has a tight amendment deadline.

  1. Introduction of multi-faith calendar to foster inclusivity

With more frequent assessment, we introduced a multi-faith calendar that considered religious holidays when scheduling assessment deadlines. This way, students' diverse religious beliefs and practices are accommodated, and the department showed its commitment to a culturally diverse learning environment.

  1. Curriculum review and programme connectedness

In 2020, the department conducted a review of its curriculum and units, resulting in significant changes to learning outcomes and assessment types. Online exams were introduced, while group work and low-risk assessment points were retained. Block teaching prompted staff to become more aware of how their units related to others, facilitated by staff meetings and handover meetings between blocks. This practice has continued.

  1. The establishment and continued presence of a community of practice for teaching and learning:

An online community of practice was established during the pandemic to bring staff together and share their teaching and learning practice. These TALE (Teaching and Learning Exchanges) workshops and sessions have continued with a focus that responds to student voice and staff development need and reinforce the intent of the assessment strategy and feedback policy.

 

Evaluation of changes:

  • Student satisfaction with assessment and feedback in the department has consistently been strong, as indicated by the NSS. Recent internal surveys have shown this category receiving the highest satisfaction rating in the business school.
  • Positive outcomes for students: BAME vs white positive continuation from level 4 to 5
  • Streamlining of curriculum and assessments leads to less resource burden – rationalisation of courses from 37 in the department to 15 by 2023/24 and 178 units in 2021/22 reduced to 137 by 2023/24

 

Authors:

Amanda Miller, Department Head of Curriculum, Faculty of Business and Law Manchester Metropolitan University

Alice Graeupl, Assessment Lead and Deputy Head of Department, Faculty of Business and Law Manchester Metropolitan University

Marilena Antoniadou, Faculty Director of Education, Faculty of Business and Law Manchester Metropolitan University