Different departments at the LSE have slowly been following through in their promises to diversify assessment at the university, especially after the most recent Undergraduate Programme Review undertaken during the summer.
According to official TQARO (LSE’s Teaching Quality Assurance and Review Office) information, in 2013 53.3% of courses were assessed by exam, whereas in 2018 this has slightly declined to 46.6% of courses. There has been a reduction in the number of 100% weighted exams, from 35.1% of courses in 2013 down to 24.1% in 2018.
Ten departments introduced assessment diversification as a result of the recent undergraduate review resulting in assessment changes in 18% of undergraduate courses. All departments either reduced or maintained the number of summative exams collectively (not necessarily on course level): there were no increases.
Claire Gordon, Head of the LSE Teaching and Learning Centre and leader of the Undergraduate Programme Review, said that there is much evidence in educational research supporting assessment diversification. Students develop a broader range of skills, feel less stress, and it also allows for a more inclusive education. The danger of this the is ‘over assessment’ of students: Gordon says LSE should be “reducing the burden of assessment as we diversify them.”
Gordon told The Beaver that 80 courses (modules) diversified assessments in total during the review: “If I were going to award prizes for the way departments approached the review I would give them to the Anthropology and Geography departments.”
The BA/BSc Anthropology already had a range of different assessments, but as a result of the review, new methods were introduced and assessments were cut to ensure students were not being over assessed. The overall number of summative assessments was reduced from 37 to 21. In the case of the Geography Department, Deputy Department Manager Luigi Pisanelli told The Beaver that 4 unit courses were changed into 2 half units and so it was no longer feasible to have only the traditional one essay and one exam assessment. As a result, the department has reduced the proportion of courses that have exams whilst retaining the absolute number of courses with exams.
On the other hand, some departments still have all undergraduate courses assessed by exams and promise that they are slowly on the path towards diversification. From this academic year, one such department, Economics, has introduced additional assessments methods such as class participation and group projects, for two of their third year courses.
“Diversification of assessment is certainly on the department’s agenda for consideration for the future,” said Sarah Burton, Undergraduate Programme Manager for the Department of Economics. Claire Gordon said that it is always harder for larger departments such as Economics to bring about more radical change in assessment methods.
Pre-existing diversification has also been present in a few courses, such as assessed student-produced documentary films, and assessed weekly blog posts. Gordon said that the LSE is trying to go beyond these individual cases into a school wide commitment to assessment diversification, and depending on how this academic year goes it might encourage academics to go even further with diversification.
In recent years, the Government and Philosophy departments have been increasingly encouraging course conveners to move away from assessing courses solely by exam. A spokesperson from the Government Department told The Beaver that in the academic year 2018-19, just 6 of 27 undergraduate courses in the department are assessed by 100% exam. Additional assessment methods include research proposals, research projects, presentations, class participation, critiques of readings and group work. A spokesperson from the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method told The Beaver that the department initially had 21 of its undergraduate courses assessed by exams, with this number reduced to 16 in 2017. One additional course including assessed coursework was also added from 2016 to 2017.
“This work is going forward, the program review was just the beginning,” assured Claire Gordon, however warning that the Postgraduate Programme Review will be even more gradual, since there has been a large amount of institutional change at the LSE lately.