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With the academic year soon to draw to a close, and his time as a sabbatical officer with it, Students’ Union Vice President (Academic) Richard Clark is hoping to set in place the foundations for a universal code of practice for use by each department in conducting student assessment and feedback.
Clark initiated the campaign at the start of the Lent term by setting up a working group of student volunteers, who conducted their own research into students’ assessment and feedback needs and wants. This working group was able to collate data from 132 respondents about how they perceive feedback under current practices and how they would ideally like it to be.
From this data, Clark composed a discussion document to be sent to the Academic Standards and Quality Committee (ASQC) with a view to establishing a code of practice for use across all departments. Clark described the code as “a document that explains what is expected of staff and what is expected of students when it comes to feedback”. It would include “aspirational policies and procedures that we think the University should adhere to as well as key rules and regulations that they have to be doing”.
The code of practice would be as much a guide for students as well as for academics. One proposed stipulation is for students to have to collect feedback that has been provided for them. At the moment some departments are experiencing situations in which students receive assessment marks online via the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment and subsequently neglect to pick up the hard copy of their work, thereby missing out on the benefit to be gained by reading their tutors’ written feedback. Understandably, this is frustrating for tutors who produce detailed guidance on how students could improve and where they may have erred in their work.
Clark said, “You improve your essay by reading [about] where you fell short and the bits that you could improve upon.” With this in mind, recent attempts to ensure students collect their feedback from departments – including the retention of online marks for a set period or until hard copies of work have been collected – may become incorporated into the universal feedback code of practice.
The Students’ Union (LUSU) has now been asked to produce a template of such a code of practice. Clark is currently working with students and staff members within the University to produce this template, which will then have to be passed by ASQC. Clark is hoping that the template will be ready within the fortnight so that it will be ready to be put before the Committee at its next meeting in July. This time-frame will give departments time over the summer to familiarise themselves with the code of practice and put measures in place for its implementation at the start of the next academic year. Each department will be asked to use the template as a guide in formulating its own code of practice, which will allow for department-specific protocol that would not necessarily apply across the board.
This means that the full realisation of Clark’s hard work will reach completion after his term in office has finished. Reflecting on the progress he and those with whom he has been working on the assessment and feedback campaign has made, Clark admitted that a year is, in many cases, too short a time to realise fully the ambitions and goals that motivated the individual to represent their student peers.
Although the supervision of the code of practice throughout its period of implementation will have to be overseen by Clark’s successor, Joe O’Neill (VP Education), Clark is nevertheless positive about the progress that he has made this year with the help and commitment of his fellow campaigners. The three key areas that he wanted to improve during his time in office were the student representative system, the feedback and assessment procedures, and the student-led teaching awards. Clark feels that a great deal of progress has been made in these key areas, though work inevitably remains to be done:
“I think I’ve done quite a lot and made quite a lot of difference. However, at the same time, having a year is not long enough. […] Whilst I’ve made great strides, it’s actually just a small part of the journey that I think all three of those key topics [mentioned above] have to go on before they are fully completed.”
Clark also stated that he and his fellow LUSU officers are working extremely hard at the moment to ensure that the handover to next year’s FTO team is as comprehensive and thorough as possible, thus enabling the incoming sabbatical officers to ‘hit the ground running’ with on-going work and campaigns.