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Discussion groups

Discussion Group 1: Issues arising from NSS Report

David Vaughan

Chair: David Vaughan
Facilitator: Bernadette Blair

As expected this topic attracted a large group of delegates after the presentation of the GLAD report on NSS in Art and Design by Professor David Vaughan.

The group discussed issues such as:

  • The timing of the questionnaires and the affect of events happening at this time in both the curriculum (dissertation hand-in) and institutional – (Building work).  
  • The survey is emotionally connected so that anything that comes up at that time can effect comments. 

The NSS is a ‘snap shot’ feedback of what is currently happening and not always a reflection on their experience throughout their 2-3 years.

Examples were given of how some institutions are trying to change this. 

  • Keeping a log of the highs and lows throughout their time on the course, which is discussed between students and staff and on which students are encouraged to reflect before the NSS allows a more measured response to take place
  • A Students’ learning Journal which students carried around – what they are thinking about.  Everything is keep in these for students to reflect on.
  • Preparing students more before and when they join us was another suggestion.  They come from a ‘number crunching culture’ and a very tightly timetabled structure at school.  Also less students have had a pre-degree art and design experience. 
  • Understanding students expectations of the course and informing them of tutors expectations

One example of practice given was the ‘Stepping Stones’ initiative at Bournemouth University, another - questionnaires asking “what do you expect of us”.

Kit Friend stated that students want ‘forward-facing constructive feedback and need to know how they can improve their work.  It was agreed that students and staff need to discuss and students need to understand their learning experience - Sometimes a disaster or failure of a task can be a more valuable learning experience than a success.

  • Students need to understand what is meant by independent learning, especially in their final undergraduate year.
  • Staff need to ensure that feedback and assessment has parity, is efficient and is impartial.

It was agreed that contact with staff, space (studio) and access to workshop and production facilities are strengths that other disciplines may not experience.  Students need to be reminded of these benefits/differences.

  • There were concerns raised that the change in economic circumstances in HE could affect the responses in a negative way.
  • The large number of dyslexic students in our disciplines could also be an issue.  There seems evidence through this report and some research at UAL that these students use the scale the wrong way around so that questions such as did they know what feedback was -  they answer no but when asked can verbally articulate and understand what feedback is.

Notes by Bernadette Blair

Discussion Group 2: External Examiners

Ian Pirie

Chair: Ian Pirie
Facilitator: Finola Gaynor

QAA, Universities UK, GuildHE and the Higher Education Academy are conducting a sector-led review of external examining arrangements with the aim of developing a Code of Practice for all external examiners.

The following points were made during the discussion:
What are the issues?

  • Peer review is really important.
  • What should we pull together about the external examining system?
  • How can we demonstrate improvement?
  • How can the scheme be more robust?
  • Finding an examiner can be very difficult and adhoc, how do you find them? This is currently done via recommendation, critical friends, shared understanding of individual programmes etc.
  • Things to consider are Terms and Conditions for EEs, levels of pay etc.
  • What is the role of subject centres?
  • Process is varied; does it need to be different?
  • Mentoring requirements
  • How do you get the experience?
  • Maintaining the database
  • Reciprocal examiners?
  • Degree of clarity, codes of practice
  • Induction processes
  • Subdivisions of values
  • QAA + Guild HE EE review  - do they have sufficient knowledge of the subject area?
  • How do we capture and where does the information go - Internally and externally?
  • Engagement with the student enhancement agenda
  • Identifying good practice, lack of understanding the structure reporting system.
  • Understanding the terms of engagement
  • EEs attending exam boards just act as witnesses
  • Meeting the students - it is important to see the shows, see the work
  • Should there be an opportunity to report on the quality of the EE process?
  • Positive influence on the programmes
  • Course consultants
  • How do we use the knowledge, is this too informal?
  • Verbal hand-overs create a stabilising process
  • Are benchmark statements and national standards taken into account?
  • Course documents - are they just the validated documents is this the same as the delivery?
  • One size fits all standardisation doesn’t necessarily fit with the creative sector. How do we get around that?
  • Consider the standards of 1+3 year(3) contract instead of 3+1 year(3)

Ideas for development:

  • The creation of a working group using ‘JISCmail’.
  • This process should be a bottom-up approach with emphasis on the actual ‘doing’ bit.
  • Identify and acknowledge the problems encountered in relation to the Data protection act and sharing data between institutions.
  • Discuss and develop upon the idea of creating and maintaining a National Register.
  • Focussing on the requirements undergraduate, PG and PHD external examining in particular, to practice based PHDs.
  • ADM-HEA and PALATINE could create a specialist interest group to look at issues as well as the parity.
  • The working group should collate examples of best practice, for example the Health Sciences and Practice Subject Centre; Birmingham conservatoires with QAA EE review; Plymouth new induction system; Plymouth is letting Students become part of the whole process.
  • The working group should identify a Scoping project – practice based course, perhaps within medicine – MD’s don’t just exam they practice too!

Notes by Finola Gaynor

Discussion Group 3: Identification of Assessment Standards

Susan Orr

Chair: Susan Orr
Facilitator: Hilarie Graham

The objective of this discussion: To get participant's views!

Defining ‘good work’:
There are many subjective viewpoints in assessment…almost parallel universes….there are issues around ‘what we do ‘ and ‘what we are seen to do’!

‘Good Work’

  • meets the criteria
    the academics set the criteria [are students involved?]
  • how are the criteria interpreted?
    Not always straight forward
  • Process > product…..
  • Ask students to identify how? (contexts for work; range of work)

Both academics and students are already making decisions about

  • is there a shared understanding about assessment
  • in what cultural milieu is assessment taking place?

‘It’s good work but I don’t like it!’

  • students may seek to produce work that tutors like…..
  • but academics want students to produce work that challenges student and tutor
  • there could be dialogues about likes and dislikes as formative development
  • need to de-personalise comments….
  • are we marking the work or the student i.e. is it 1st work or a 1st student…..?

Level descriptors:

  • Need to consider the language of how we describe assessment..
  • How do we reflect the university structure and the academy?
  • Perhaps should not hide behind assessment structures but admit subjectivity, and merge the academic contexts (appeal / Board/ Studio); these latter are clashing paradigms with assessment.

The process of what students do in a academic environment and then what they go on to after…is of importance to employers.
There should be respect for professional knowledge in art and design, but many are very suspicious of professional judgement.
This raises questions about art and design as a discipline: its confidence and how it is substantiated.

Assessor v facilitating assessment
There is an identification of standards through groupings: staff and external examiners…
Academics perceive a problem of achieving product without process: so what is being measured?
What does a student have to do to get 88; there is a cultural view of the numbers that seems to discount marking at the top end; and how do we teach at the top end?
How do we link standards to grade bands?

Working at a level?
At what level are students working:

  • working at level 1/ 2/ 3 – and the expectations of achievement at these levels?
  • what is the leap from BA to MA, level 6 to level 7?
  • how do we support self-esteem and confidence and acknowledge high-performing achievement?
  • what is the relationship between MA in discipline/ practice and for example: PGC’s?

What are standards?
Previous examples of work – should be available to students?
    …The research behind the work
    …Go to the final show and see the work – examples of show as resource (online?)


  • The ability of students
  • Trust colleagues
  • A broad enough range of work…
  • Engage students in assessing own/ others portfolio: ‘you work it out!’
  • Empower a strong student voice in assessment…students as part of the process



Notes by Hilaire Graham


Photographs by Paul Postle.

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