Assessing your learning fairly in 2021
Our preparations for this academic year included careful planning for assessment in the context of the pandemic.
We have kept students’ best interests at the core of what we do and at the heart of the decisions that we have taken. We want students to be able to show they have achieved the learning outcomes of their course.
We have welcomed advice and challenge from Nottingham Trent Student Union (NTSU) in devising our approach. Whilst we agree on the course of action in many areas, there are others where we have a different view on what will work best to support our students. We will continue to collaborate with NTSU to review this support.
How will we assess fairly?
Every student should be able to undertake an assessment fairly. We can only enable that by making sure what we offer is highly personal to you. All students have the offer of additional pastoral support, provision of IT equipment, extensions on deadlines, and other mitigations . But what each student will need will vary enormously.
We don’t think that blanket measures, such as moving all deadlines, or changing the way all degrees are classified, is a helpful approach. NTU is a big university with a very diverse range of courses. Each course has an assessment strategy designed for its own learning outcomes, often with professional accreditation in mind.
This means that an apparently ‘simple’ universal change would have very different effects for different courses, and the unintended consequence of such blanket measures could be to actually create unfairness.
Listen to Troy Brocklebank, Vice President for Education at NTSU and Jane McNeil, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education at NTU talking about safety net scoring and why we've changed our approach for 2021.
This year we can’t offer a safety net grade, as no assessments that contribute to this year’s learning have been completed without some impact from COVID-19. But please don’t worry, we have lots of other ways to ensure fairness and no detriment in your assessments.
What additional measures are we introducing to assess fairly during the pandemic?
NTU is committed to ensuring that teaching and assessment will continue to support learning in 2020/21. Here are the measures that we have put in place to ensure fair assessment. Some are part of the existing assessment framework, some were created for this academic year and some are in direct response to this period of lockdown. We are committed to regularly evaluating the effectiveness of these measures:
1. We will move immediately to restore the special measures that we had for Notification of Extenuating Circumstances for extensions from last year
When you are unable to study because of circumstances beyond your control, our Notification of Extenuating Circumstances (NEC) process is there to support you. In the pandemic there are a lot more things beyond your control, so we have extended our policy further.
First, we have extended the eligibility for an NEC beyond what would normally be the case making it more accessible to more students. It might be that you cannot complete an assessment because of the disruption or because your environment is not conducive to study. You might encounter IT issues. You might feel overwhelmed. There are too many circumstances to list, but the NEC is available to support any student unable to study due to circumstances beyond their control.
Second, you do not need to provide independent documentary evidence when seeking an NEC. Just explain how you are affected. We trust you.
If you need a coursework extension, please let us know before the assessment deadline, by using the online NEC form. You should state whether the circumstances are likely to end to enable your School to give an appropriate extension, or perhaps to rearrange an assessment date to a future point.
If something happens during a time-limited assessment like an online exam, please let us know by sending the self-certification form with your NEC.
2. Schools are urgently reviewing their assessment schedules
Course teams are reviewing their schedules of assessment tasks. The new lockdown will directly affect a number of assessments, broadly those with practical components. It will not be possible to hold some of these, either in the intended format or at the intended time.
Course teams will design alternatives, in format or time, ensuring that they still meet your learning outcomes and that they don’t impact on other assessments directly or indirectly. Schools will carefully consider any impact of changes, with a presumption that a change to time will normally give students more opportunity to prepare.
Any changes will be communicated to you by your School.
3. The University will moderate all assessment, External Examiners will monitor outcomes closely and grades can be adjusted
Assessment tasks are checked by course teams to ensure they are fair; assessments that contribute to your final award classification are also reviewed by External Examiners.
When assessments are marked, the marking is also reviewed for fairness in the moderation process. Where an assessment contributes to the final award, an External Examiner monitors the moderation and checks the results: they are particularly looking to ensure this is a fair process for our students.
As well as this careful checking of tasks and marking, where there are grounds that the students have still been disadvantaged course teams can adjust all the grades to ensure that they properly reflect students’ performance.
4. The University will ensure the Examination Boards’ powers are comprehensive
Examination Boards make the decision about whether a student is ready to progress to the next level of study, and on award classifications. An important part of their decision making includes compensating for failed modules. This happens where a student has failed a module but has demonstrated that they have achieved the same learning outcomes elsewhere.
We design our courses so that you have more than one opportunity to demonstrate your learning.
After an Examination Board, a student can request reconsideration of a decision. Grounds for this request include extenuating circumstances that you could not alert us to before an assessment. We will review this policy to ensure that it is still working effectively to support you in the current circumstances.
5. The University will monitor assessment mid-year to ensure that our measures are working
Every year we undertake a review of all assessment outcomes across the University. This year we will also do this mid-year to ensure that the measures we have put in place are working.
This is more complicated for us than for universities with a semester system, because not all our modules have an assessment in the early part of the year. But we will review the outcomes of the ‘half year’ assessment period to gauge if we need to do more.