This is the fourth briefing on the Degree Standards project, led by Advance HE and managed by the Office for Students on behalf of England and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales, which has explored sector-owned processes focused on the professional development of external examiners. The purpose of this five-year project is to:
• Design, pilot and deliver different approaches to the professional development of external examiners;
• Propose evidence-based and cost-effective longer-term approaches to the professional development of external examiners operating across the UK higher education system; and
• Explore approaches to the calibration of standards, presenting recommendations for future work in this area.
Professional development course for external examiners
During the second year of the project (2017-18), the blended learning professional development course was successfully established and enhanced through delivery at 24 higher education provider institutions. This involved institutions committing to the professional development of their staff as external examiners. The institutions nominated facilitators to undertake a Develop the Developer programme, which equips them to roll out the training across the institution.
In addition, the professional development course was offered on a regional basis to all-comers across three regions in the UK. Furthermore, five online courses were also delivered.
Through this work, it has become clear that:
• There is a considerable appetite amongst higher education providers for the professional development of their own staff who are, or who aspire to be, external examiners;
• There is a need for flexibility of provision, as there are benefits to be derived from institutionally-based delivery, from regional delivery and online provision;
• The course has led to changes in knowledge and understanding of external examining and has prompted consideration of changes in behaviour, stimulating in several cases institutional dialogue about standards, assessment, marking and moderation; and
• The importance of having a course that is underpinned by a research-evidence base and emphasis on the active learning approach have emerged as being key.
The reach of the course has been extensive, with a total of 1,200 academic staff having completed the blended course on an institutional basis. The regional courses have been attended by 183 participants from around 100 higher education providers, with various levels of external examiner experience and from a range of subjects. The online courses have also attracted 74 participants to attend, representing 43 higher education providers.
In general, the uptake of the course has demonstrated that the provision is valuable and relevant across nations, types of provider and for various levels of experience in external examining.
During the first and second year of the project, activities designed to calibrate academic standards were carried out with four professional bodies and subject associations . A series of workshops, toolkits and case studies have been developed as a ‘showcase’ for other subject communities to emulate.
In 2017-18, the project has explored the use of calibration by means of a North-West Consortium involving thirteen higher education providers in the North West of England. The project has developed and delivered two ‘integrated courses’ in Geography and in Law; these involve a subject-specific version of the professional development course and subject-specific calibration activities.
The main aim is to investigate the feasibility, viability, portability and sustainability of these approaches as different models for the development and delivery of subject-based calibration of academic standards. The anticipated impact of these approaches to developing calibration will be the establishment of a community of practice around degree standards and increased comparability of academic standards across particular subject communities.
What's happening in 2018-19
During the third year of the project, the Advance HE is committed to:
• Enhance and extend the delivery of the Develop the Developer course to more ‘new adopters’;
• Holding five regional courses across the three nations;
• Trialling and running the revised online version of the course to a larger cohort of up to 100 people;
• Devising and delivering two additional subject-based integrated courses; and
• Evaluating the longer-term impact of the course.
Want to get involved?
After the initial wave of applications to join the institutional partnership, we are now recruiting ‘new adopters’. Please contact us at the email address below for further details.
Currently, the provision is still free to UK-based HE providers.
Taking place on 22 May 2019 in London this timely conference on protecting the value of qualifications in the UK and the role of degree classification and external examining in contributing to this, delivered in association with UUK and Guild HE will:
- explore how higher education providers across the UK can ensure that qualifications do not lose their value over time
- disseminate the response of higher education providers to the UUK consultation on protecting the value of honours degree qualifications
- disseminate the findings of the Degree Standards project in order in part to encourage both the recruitment of more higher education providers to the project and interest in professional bodies and subject associations in calibrating academic standards