06 July 2010

On validations and grading

I'm now quite an old hand on validations panels.

(New readers start here: it is standard practice in the UK that a new course, and indeed a substantially modified established course, is scrutinised by academic peers --colleagues within a school, within the university but from a different school, and beyond the university-- before it receives the university's imprimatur.)

I have taken part in two in the last couple of weeks. One was a complex master's programme with generic and named routes, and different but sometimes unexplored understandings of what constitutes M level work. And today's was a humble 60-credit certificate at NQF 5.

In both cases I have been really impressed by the quality of discussion. Something has changed for the better over the past few years (in my experience).

On the Master's programme we had a great and appropriately unresolved discussion about transformative learning and whether one can "require" it in assessment (among other things) [Yes, I will post on that in more detail as promised as soon as I know what I think...]

..and today we grappled with how to assess "reflection" and whether its proxy for assessment  could be graded. And I found myself arguing that it could be graded!

Thinking back over a dozen or so validations in which I have participated recently --some internally but more externally, at all levels from level 4 certificates to professional doctorates-- for once I have to concede that the system has got better. Not necessarily at the level of formal regulations--in practice one only hits those when really difficult technical issues obtrude-- but in both the quality and the culture of the debate.

I (and I'm not a lone voice, albeit a timorous one) have inveighed against (moaned about) the "compliance culture" stifling serious discussion of course content, structure and processes. But that seems to come principally from the accreditation bodies rather than academic institutions themselves.

I'm very pleased to find that within those institutions, "quality assurance" has moved on from covering institutional arses by ticking boxes, to a genuine enquiry into how learning can be promoted and the student experience enhanced.

I'll have to lie down--it has all been a bit of a shock!

1 comment:

  1. petermt11:40 pm

    It was an interesting conversation about assessment of reflection we had on Monday, and thanks for your ideas.

    My feeling about our reluctance to grade reflection partly comes from the conventions of a science discipline, where it's supposed to be 'objective' and impersonal so we shy away from writing in any personal way. The other part of the reluctance stems from the apparent requirement that grades should be given as percentages, but how could you make a distinction between a 59% and a 60% reflection. It just seems to go against the spirit of reflective learning.

    The eventual solution of having broad bands of grading (pass, merit, distinction) seems to satisfy everyone. We can give some indication of how 'good' the reflection is (quite what 'good' is still needs to be defined properly in the grading criteria, but that's a different story...). And let's face it, it's nice to be able to highlight the good, isn't it?

    I'd totally agree with you, James. We came up with a grading scheme that has enhancement of learning as its purpose, and the bureaucratic / compliance issues have to be adapted to serve this purpose not the other way round.



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