The Importance of a Balanced Assessment Regime for International MBA Students
Assessment is always a key consideration in postgraduate programs. For the purpose of this discussion I use my own School as an example given the available access to internal data. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, assessment was essentially 100% examination-based. Examinations were conducted in Week #5, Week #9 and then Weeks #13/14. All examinations were F2F invigilated and conducted on campus, in the classroom environment, with stringent attendance and completion rules. The feedback from students was positive as reflected in the aggregated Student Feedback on Unit (SFU) surveys – 4.29/5 over 11 trimesters.
There was a degree of certainty in the assessment – certain that students were actually personally completing the work as well as certain and understandable assessment requirements. Occasionally formative work was assigned outside the examination regime – but often for little if any credit.
A change to the regime in 2019
In T2, 2019 the Academic Senate endorsed a less face-to-face oriented obligation (given the pandemic circumstances) by endorsing a 40% assignment/60% examination assessment model – assignments of course were electronic and examinations were online. This has been followed ever since – with the addition of 8 of the 32 subjects being proctored (CPA-accredited subjects). The SFU aggregate outcome during this period has been – 4.3/5 over 12 trimesters.
Clearly, the student feedback would suggest that the new regime was no less or more popular than the examination-only regime.
The tell-tale question in the surveys, though, surrounds the recurring Item #10 – ‘the assessment requirements were clearly explained’. There was no apparent variation in the student feedback on this topic essentially sitting at an aggregate of 4.28/5 over 20 trimesters.
The obvious issue is essentially about ensuring that the assessment being used in a subject is clear and evident from the outset – whatever the mode.
Distribution of grades
A closer examination and comparison of the post-graduate non – moderated grade distributions pre-COVID (examination only) and during COVID (mixed assessment 40:60) reveals very little variation with a slight improvement in the last few trimesters due mainly to an increase in females into the program. The examination only versus an assignment/examination regime appears to have little if any impact at all on results.
Within the 40/60 framework – the assignment element is varied with a range of assessments including essays, group reports, attendance/participation, tests, essay-type questions, group presentations, projects, database modelling, written assignments, literature reviews and individual reports. An important and often tell-tale set of data is associated with graduate outcomes and the assessment of the course post-graduation. The latest survey (2022) revealed a staggering 95% satisfaction with the MBA. There is no evidence that this is a reflection on the assessment mode used – rather more to do with the quality of teaching and learner engagement during the pandemic period.
Assessment in the Hybrid Environment
Within the hybrid return to campus mode (that is students choose the option to either stay online or return to F2F) there is little need for any substantial change to the assessment model. Perhaps an additional 8 subjects to be proctored to combat the ever-increasing (or perceived increasing) of online cheating. Any attempt to ensure academic integrity is vital and should be endorsed.
Assessment of the full return to F2F for international students
Despite some contentious arguments to return to face-to-face, invigilated examinations in study halls with long queues clutching ID cards – the most logical situation would be to provide both options – online (proctored where feasible) and F2F for students who would prefer that particular mode.
Throughout the pandemic period, my own institution surveyed students each trimester on the topic of enthusiasm to return to the campus. The most recent MBA survey indicated that 94% of international students would prefer to remain online. An enforced return will have strong resistance and likely negative emotions – and perhaps maintaining online assessment (both assignment and examination) might be a worthy consideration.
Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at UBSS and Vice President (Academic) at GCA.