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Degree Standards Conference 2021: Improving assessment literacy and maintaining academic standards

This one-day event focussed on the OfS-funded Degree Standards project and the outcomes of the project.

This conference explored two ways to ensure the maintenance of academic standards – firstly, improving assessment literacy amongst staff, students and other members of the HE community and secondly, enhancing the reliability of academic and professional judgements. At this event, delegates heard from leading researchers and institutional leaders as well as experts who have been involved in the design and delivery of the Degree Standards training of external examiners.

It explored the outcomes and insights that have emerged from the OfS-funded Degree Standards Project, the aims of which were to design, pilot and deliver different approaches to the professional development of external examiners and recommend new approaches to the calibration of standards.

This event was aimed at senior leaders and programme leaders involved in the engaging and support of external examiners as well as current and aspiring external examiners.

Join the conversation at #DegreeStandardsConf21

Date: 18 June 2021

Venue: Virtual

Who: All higher education professionals

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Conference aims

The overarching theme of this conference was Improving assessment literacy and maintaining academic standardsand the aims of the conference were:

  • to bring together leading researchers, institutional leaders, external examiners and those involved in the appointment of external examiners, to consider how best to support and maintain academic standards
  • to explore the importance of assessment literacy to all HE stakeholders and the necessity of the regular calibration of assessment standards at discipline level
  • to hear from experts involved (via the Degree Standards project) in the design and delivery of professional development activities about ways to tackle these issues
  • to assess the impact of these activities on individuals, institutions and the sector
  • to identify and agree priorities for sustaining and further developing the professionalization of external examiners
Degree Standards Conference 2021 - New for 2020-21
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The Degree Standards Project

The Degree Standards project, which is led by Advance HE and managed by the Office for Students on behalf of England and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales, is exploring, across those three nations, sector-owned processes focusing on professional development for external examiners.

Find out more about the Degree Standards Project
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Conference programme

Download Resource

Degree Standards Conference 2021 Programme

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Keynote speaker

Professor Andrew Wathey CBE

Professor Andrew Wathey CBE became Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University in September 2008.  He is the University's fourth Vice-Chancellor.  Previously, he was Senior Vice-Principal at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Professor Wathey has served on a number of national boards and committees.  He chairs the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.  He is a Board member of the Quality Assurance Agency, and is a member of the Council of the All Party Parliamentary Universities Group.  

Find out more about Andrew

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Session speakers

Improving assessment literacy: Assessment literacy: other uses

Dr Emma Medland

Dr Emma Medland is a Lecturer in Higher Education with the Surrey Institute of Education, at the University of Surrey. She is Programme Director of the MA in Higher Education, and a Senior Fellow of Advance HE. Her research interests relate primarily to assessment and feedback in Higher Education, focusing recently on assessment literacy, verbal feedback, and grade inflation.

Emma Medland

Improving assessment literacy: The Professional Development Course for External Examiners

Chris Rust

Chris Rust is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at Oxford Brookes where he worked for over 25 years.  He was Head of the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, and Deputy Director of the Human Resource Directorate from 2001-2011.  Between 2005-10 he was also Deputy Director for two Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning - ASKe (Assessment Standards Knowledge Exchange) and the Reinvention Centre for undergraduate research (led by Warwick University). For his last three years he was Associate Dean (Academic Policy).

Find out more about Chris

Chris Rust

Andy Lloyd

Andy is Senior Curriculum Design Advisor at the Centre for Education Support and Innovation at Cardiff University, leading on assessment and feedback support across the institution.  Andy has worked in a wide range of different roles across the University for over 25 years.  Originally working as a librarian, he then moved to a research role in the School of Education, and then to lead the enhancement of a number of different areas in the assessment lifecycle University-wide, including support for and the training of external   examiners.

Find out more about Andy

Andy Lloyd

Improving assessment literacy: Assessment literacy: other uses

Andrea Chalk, Academic Registrar, University of Gloucestershire will be presenting this session.

Calibrating academic standards

Professor Margaret Price

Margaret Price is Professor Emerita of Assessment and Learning at Oxford Brookes University UK.  As a researcher she has strong roots in the practice of teaching and assessment. She was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2002 in recognition of her excellence in teaching and contribution to the development of learning, teaching and assessment in Higher Education. Her research has focused on the nature of assessment standards and student engagement with assessment feedback.

Find out more about Margaret

Margaret Price

Professor Berry O’Donovan

Berry O’Donovan is Professor of Teaching and Learning at the Business School, Oxford Brookes University. She is a National Teaching Fellow and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has been involved in a number of national projects focused on academic standards, and assessment and feedback in Higher Education.  She is currently a member of the Advance HE Degree Standards project team. Her research centres on assessment and feedback issues and the intellectual development of students in multidisciplinary contexts. Currently she teaches on introductory and capstone modules that focus on synoptic learning within management education. 

Berry O’Donovan

Impact of the Degree Standards project: Evaluating the impact of the Degree Standards project

Joanne Moore

Joanne is an independent consultant with expertise in education and social policy research, including research to develop recommendations for policy and practice. She has written several national reports that evaluated the effectiveness of public programmes, provided guidance and shared best practice. This includes both quantitative and qualitative assignments. Recent projects relevant to the widening participation to higher education agenda include research into gaps in student access, attainment and progression. She is experienced at supporting practitioner led evaluation, including authoring guidance on evaluation methods and support as part of the Uni Connect evaluation capacity building team. 

Joanne Moore
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Panel speakers

Impact of the Degree Standards project: The impact of the Professional Development Course on an institution

Dr Rachel Forsyth MBA PFHEA

Rachel Forsyth is Head of the University Teaching Academy at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research interests focus on institutional change, particularly in relation to inclusive learning communities and assessment in higher education, and she teaches on the University's PGC in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and MA in Higher Education. She is an Associate of Advance HE and works on the Degree Standards Project which is exploring sector-owned processes focusing on professional development for external examiners. As Editor-in-Chief of the Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, she is an active member of the Researching, Advancing, Inspiring Student Engagement (RAISE) network.

Rachel Forsyth

Linda Matthews

Linda is a senior lecturer in educational development based in the University Teaching Academy (UTA) at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has combined different part-time roles over the eighteen years she has been with the university to inform her educational development work, including lecturing in several faculties, Arts and Humanities, Education and Business and Law, as well as working in the disability and careers and employability services. She teaches on the post-graduate certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, including leadership of an online module called Leading in HE Contexts. Her current interests include academic leadership; new to teaching and embedding support into the curriculum. She is a senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Linda Matthews
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'In conversation' speakers

Geoff Stoakes - Session lead

Geoff is Special Adviser (Degree Standards) at Advance HE and leads on the Degree Standards: External Examining project managed by the Office for Students. He was seconded to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2015 to work on the development of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and he was a member of the academic advisory panel for the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Previous roles include being Vice Principal of Plymouth Marjon University and Head of Research at the HEA.

Geoff Stoakes

Dr Charlotte Snelling

Dr Charlotte Snelling is a Policy Manager at Universities UK, based in the regulation team. She is currently leading work on ‘grade inflation’ including the recent public consultation on degree classification, on behalf of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.

Before starting at UUK in April 2018, she was based at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) for over two years as a research fellow, working across a range of areas within housing, welfare and public services. She was awarded a PhD in Politics from the University of Edinburgh in 2016 where her thesis examined the impact of educational experiences in tertiary education on young people’s political engagement.

Charlotte Snelling

Professor Margaret Price, Professor Emerita of Assessment and Learning at Oxford Brookes, and Chris Rust, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education, Oxford Brookes University will also be joining this session

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Related blogs and resources

Fundamentals of External Examining Handbook

Advance HE’s External examining handbook is a reference source for external examiners and brings together the outcomes from research and development in the field.

Find out more

Calibration of Academic Standards

We are investigating the feasibility, viability, portability and sustainability of different approaches as models for the development and delivery of subject-based calibration of academic standards.

Find out more and read the Calibration Synthesis Report, 'Calibration Standards: What, Why and How?'.

Find out more