Assessment in University of London Distance Education programmes, pre- and post-pandemic
The University of London has traditionally been an examining body, ensuring that external students working independently or supported by independent Teaching Centres meet the academic standards embodied in final written unseen examinations and gaining the appropriate academic award. Over the last 30 years or more in the UK however assessment practice in HE has changed substantially to include new purposes and new practices, and these are often present in the assessment strategies of on-campus programmes of independent member institutions. These include the understanding that assessment can support learning as well as judge performance. For the University of London distance programmes, there has been a relatively slow take up of different approaches to assessment, with the ‘external examination’ character of the last 150 years or more being retained. However, a recent study by CODE Fellows Gwyneth Hughes and Alan Tait evaluating pre- and post-pandemic reforms in assessment practices in University of London distance learning programmes revealed that a shift away from viewing assessment as measurement of learning using exams towards assessment for learning is already taking place amongst the programme directors and their teams, although the picture is not surprisingly very mixed due to the range of institutions, cohort sizes and disciplines involved.
The University of London has aimed to reform assessment practices for its international distance education programmes to shift away from relying solely on end of course examinations towards assessment that helps students learn. The project explored the extent to which programme directors have changed their assessments and the timing of the pandemic resulted in the study being mostly focused on a rapid shift from in-person invigilated to online exams. Evidence suggests that this crisis produced new thinking about the role of examinations including use of open book exams that require application of knowledge rather than knowledge recall, allowing more time for reflection during exams and even shifting away from exams altogether towards coursework and consideration of other assessment approaches. There were concerns about examination misconduct and workload generated by changing assessments and the report recommends that such new approaches to assessment should be encouraged through design support for assessment questions and methods that discourage plagiarism and that promote deeper learning and ultimately influence student performance and retention.