Wednesday 18 June 2014

Board, boards and yet more boards

Last week I attended two boards. This week it’s four. Two down. Two to go.

Module boards

We have module boards where we look at how individual modules have performed. What is the pass rate? Is there a full range of marks? What is the standard deviation? Have students performed better on one module than on another?   
Sometimes there may not be a full range of marks and often this means more of the higher marks. This is fine if the work matches the criteria but may beg the question of whether the criteria are rigorous enough. All of this is informed by the reports from the internal and the external moderators.

Programme boards

These look more at the performance of individual students. There are always a few non-submissions. Some students are awarded a PMC – a recognition that there were mitigating circumstances when they were due to submit. Students are allowed to resubmit in the summer – but if there was no good reason why they didn’t submit on time their marks are capped at 40%. Students who fail a module also have to resit.
We look very carefully at our borderline students. However, we have absolutely no discretion. Our 1st starts at 68.5 – so 1.5% lower than at many other institutions. Our 2:1 starts at 59. It’s almost as if we give every student discretion. Often, though, borderline students are ones that have always been borderline and yet at the same time arrive at their borderline by one or two significantly low marks. It’s rare for borderliners to be on the border in every module.
I’m grateful that this year there have been no surprises.

External examining

We respect and revere our external examiners. Many of us, too, are in turn external examiners. I attended a board where I’m an external examiner earlier this week. We have informal discussions, we send informal reports, we present more formal verbal comments and finally we send a written formal report. It’s often an opportunity to exchange ideas. An external examiner works for three to four years at an institution. This networked web maintains parity between institutions. A 1st at a post-1992 institution should be of the same standard as a 1st from Oxbridge.


We look at lots of lists or marks, often reading them out loud. Everything is ratified electronically and a secretary keeps a separate hard copy list. Our hard-working office staff then have to get results letters out to students. In most cases, students already know their raw results as we release marks at the latest three weeks after assignments have been submitted or exams have been taken. The results letter confirms how these have turned into a grade for the whole year.       

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