The Oxford Student Union has released the results of the Teaching and Assessment Student Consultation (TASC) which received a total of 5462 submissions. This consultation has been and will be used to aid university planning for remote teaching and assessment in response to the coronavirus crisis.

However, the results from the TASC show a divided student body, with little consensus over a university-wide assessment option for Trinity 2020.  

The aim of the consultation is “to ensure that the University was aware of the effects its various potential policies would have on students”, states Ray Williams, the SU Vice-President for Access & Academic Affairs.

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Williams asserts he has used the consultation as the “basis” of his arguments “in conversations with top University officials and stakeholders across the collegiate University”, stating that the TASC’s “findings have informed policymaking around teaching and assessment in Trinity 2020.”

Indeed, the ‘safety net policy’ set to be released in the upcoming week and a suspension policy allowing for optional deferment of examinations to Trinity 2021 to specific students have been directly influenced by TASC results.

The student demographic partaking in the consultation was overwhelmingly composed of undergraduates, making up 84.6% of respondents. Over 2600 finalists and a further 2800 non-finalists were surveyed.

Overall Summary

The consultation was divided between optional full, written responses and scalar responses to different scenarios and solutions, with 1 indicating an “overall negative effect” and 5 indicating “an overall positive effect”. These were graphically represented in the report. The written responses reflecting specific, detailed comments were grouped to show key areas of concern with regards to each option.  

The study presented students with 10 different “assessment solutions”: an open-book timed exam (3hr); an open-book prolonged timed exam (5hr); online Vivas; portfolios of work; coursework submission; exam postponement; suspension; alternative on-course performance grading; classification based on grades achieved throughout degree; and, graduating with an unclassified degree.

The options viewed most positively were assessment via Portfolios of Tutorial-Style Work, with 3,020 students ranking it either 4 or 5 in the negative to positive scale.

The options viewed most negatively were remote ‘open-book’ exams, with 3,213 students ranking it 1 or 2, 2000 of which stating it would have a very negative effect. The option of an Online Viva was also widely rejected, with 3,015 students claiming it would have a negative impact.

The most divided options were those offering alternative grading methods such as grades based on previous on-course performance or on previous grades already achieved in other on-course examinations and assessments.

The option to postpone exams was also generally rejected, however the proposals for an optional suspension of studies until Trinity 2021 or awarding an unclassified degree were positively viewed if chosen at the student’s own discretion.

Detailed breakdown of results.

Regarding remote exams, an overwhelming majority of students felt that open-book exams following a similar format to conventional exams would have a negative impact, with only 6% of students thinking it would be a very positive solution. Many students emphasised their concerns about home conditions, including technical issues such as WiFi connection. Others showed concerns about the suitability of specific subjects for adaptation into online formats.

The suggestion of an open-book prolonged 5-hour exam was also viewed negatively overall. However, this was seen less negatively than the 3-hour option. Similar concerns were raised.

Online Vivas that would replace exams with live assessment through videoconference were widely seen to have as negative an effect as the 3hr remote exam option, with many students raising concerns regarding unfamiliarity with the format and the stress this would cause. However, of those who viewed it more positively, they asserted this method was fairer than online exams, particularly with regards to cheating or collusion.  

Assessment via Portfolios of tutorial-style work or Coursework submissions were largely viewed more positively. Those who viewed it most positively emphasised this as a good solution to the issue of differing home conditions.

Nevertheless, students voiced concerns about the unequal access to libraries and resources and the possibility of cheating. Moreover, many expressed concerns over an increase in difficulty and expectations inherent in the format which they would be unprepared for. Many on the negative end stressed this method was inapplicable to their specific degree course.

The proposition to postpone exams to the end of the summer vacation was rejected by many students, with over 1800 stating it would have a very negative impact on them. This was primarily because of concerns about other commitments both in summer and beyond their degrees, many stating this would simply prolong stress. The University agreed with these claims emphasizing the need for students to complete their degree in “a timely fashion.” Nevertheless, many STEM exams with integrated masters have been postponed to October.

On the possibility of suspension of studies until Trinity 2021, many students agreed it should be an option, albeit only opted for by a minority of the student body. The University has directly responded to this and announced they will offer a “second sitting of Trinity 2020 exams in Trinity 2021” which students can pursue “with the blessing of their college”.

The option to award grades based on on-course performance was divisive among students. Paradoxically, students both stated it would be an accurate representation of performance whilst others asserted the direct opposite. Many postgraduate students who are tutors themselves expressed “deep concern” over this option.

The use of grades already achieved in summative assessments throughout the degree was also a divisive option. Many students asserted this was inapplicable to their course because of a lack of assessment until final year. Nevertheless, the University has confirmed they will use previous grades as the foundation for their safety net policy, to be released in the upcoming week.

The final option to award unclassified degrees was largely rejected if implemented universally, however many suggested this should a least be an option for students, particularly those struggling most because of the pandemic. In light of this, the University has decided to make a DDH (‘Declared to have Deserved Honours) degree an option for all students, which would be accompanied with “an enhanced reference letter” to aid in future prospects.

The University affirms its collaboration with the Student’s Union in the development of policies for the upcoming term.

The University told Cherwell: “The SU has been very closely involved in the development of all our policies – and sit on all of the education workstreams supporting our approach to teaching and assessment during Trinity term. The feedback from the student consultation has directly influenced this work and our plans to minimise any potential negative impact from the move to online teaching and assessment.”