Whilst the overall assessment strategy and approach is specified very early in the life-cycle, there is a process of setting assignment details that needs to occur for each instance of delivery. At this point students are given details, that may take the form of an assignment brief, about precise topics, deadlines, learning outcomes assessed, marking criteria, feedback arrangements etc.
This point in the life-cycle is also where technology can have an important role to play in managing scheduling and deadlines in order to avoid issues of ‘assessment bunching’ whereby several assessment deadlines fall on the same date resulting in poorer quality submissions as students have less time to spend on each assignment and lower attendance in lectures and seminars whilst students are concentrating on the multiple assessments to be submitted as well as the lack of opportunity for formative feedback. This is of course a curriculum design issue but EMA comes into play in terms of making information available to learners and tutors. Manchester Metropolitan University has introduced personalised assessment schedules for its students [the report will link to a case study] and the University of South Wales (formerly Glamorgan) has introduced assessment diaries.
A ‘modelling tool’ that has proven useful in reviewing assessment practice, and particularly identifying issues with the overall assessment timetable, is the concept of assessment timelines as developed by the ESCAPE project at the University of Hertfordshire. This is used to model patterns of high medium and low stakes assessment across a 12 week semester. It gives a very clear indication of whether there are sufficient formative opportunities and ‘scaffolding’ of learning.
Pedagogic issues around assessment bunching and over-assessment also highlight the need to take a holistic view of the life-cycle and think about how administrative processes relate to academic practice because peaks in assignment submission also have implications for staff workload (both academic and administrative) and supporting systems. Manchester Metropolitan University undertook some modelling from its coursework submission database and identified significant peaks in assignment submissions (the highest being around 17,000 individual submissions due at the end of March 2012). As a result of its curriculum review MMU has reduced the total number of pieces of coursework it handles annually from c.620,000 to c.400,000 by insisting on a maximum of two pieces of summative assessment per module.
MMU guidance on Setting.