The UK conversation about student-centred approaches to ensuring academic success is full of promise.
Students are increasingly being as treated as partners in the university context but there are opportunities to take student-centred approaches to learning and assessment further. While many of practitioners measure our performance based on NSS scores, is it enough? There are approaches that could not only enhance satisfaction ratings, but also ensure better value for money and increased employability for students.
Student representatives are often justifiably worried about assessment load. The fact is, we don’t actually know how many times a student gets assessed throughout one year of academic study. And we don’t know how many assessments is too many. The same conversations are being had in secondary schools.
We have built a culture of assessment that is burdensome. Possible solutions include looking at whether some modules could share assessments, reducing the number of individual assessments in a module and being mindful of deadline bunching.
But taking a student-centric to the next level might involve more radical approaches. Could a student choose which assessment they want from a list of options, or even design their own form of assessment as long as it aligns with the core learning outcomes?
In practice, most assessments could be offered in at least three forms – essay, multiple choice, and presentation. Each assessment has its strengths and weaknesses, but with the right criteria, could offer the same level of quality. Contemporary research on student-involved assessment suggests this approach plays to individual strengths by allowing them to demonstrate their knowledge and skills on a topic or learning outcome in a way that suits them.
Dissertations or placements?
We’re all under pressure to deliver employment outcomes. However, many universities require their students to write lengthy essays in order to complete their final year, even though employers have little or no interest those major works. So why do many professional bodies still mandate dissertations?
Maybe dissertations should be replaced with credit-bearing work placement modules because, at this point, employment outcomes are critical to a graduate’s future success.
Another option might be to build in different pathways. Students who wish to go on to graduate study could follow a research-based track of study while those who are focused on graduate-level employment could follow a work-experience track. By tailoring the curriculum and co-curricular opportunities, students would have a much clearer understanding of the end goal upon graduation.
Ending the tariff game
These days we see a large number of universities playing the “tariff game”. But what do tariffs really prove? And do they play a role in how institutions can do a better job in supporting students?
One thing that might help would be more data on student success at university so institutions don’t just trade on their name and reputation. Not all providers have the right services or culture to properly support a diverse range of student needs or meet their expectations. One suggestion made previously would be to use analytics to inform students about where they might be more successful based upon the datasets of similar students who have attended specific universities.
Maybe there are viable alternatives to tariffs. Should we explore the possibility of subject-specific or strengths-based testing to determine if students have chosen the appropriate degree. Universities could recruit students based on their strengths rather than their ability to get high marks on a standardised test.
The next level
Taking a student-centred, student-involved approach to the next level is a conversation necessary in the sector. As institutions increase their knowledge and skills about improving the student experience, increasingly value aspirations and provide the resources to achieve these goals will shift the us to a new level.