Staff Seek Clarification Over Draft Academic Regulations

UCD staff members broadly agree with the proposed changes set out in the Draft Academic Regulations, subject to a number of key issues. The new draft regulations are designed to ‘standardise and simplify University processes and structures; and to locate responsibility, decision-making, and the ability and responsibility to intervene at the appropriate level.’ UCD is on Version 14 of the Regulations which were originally drafted over a decade ago.

Issue 8 of the Tribune covered the draft Academic Regulations which were made available for a university-wide consultation, whereby people were able to take part in a survey to provide feedback on the proposals. The Tribune has seen the overall results of the survey, which were set out in a 106-page report.

In total, there were 109 responses made, consisting of 93 responses to the survey, with a further 16 made outside of it. Individuals accounted for 74 of the responses, with 17 coming from Schools, 15 from Governing Boards, and 3 from ‘other groups’. Faculty accounted for 47 of the respondents. ‘Survey feedback’ covered statistics from 93 respondents, excluding 2 blank responses.

Staff members, through individual responses and those on behalf of the different Schools and Colleges, raised a number of issues over both the scope and specific provisions contained within the draft. Some staff and Schools believe the draft regulations mix concrete regulations with principles of education, which do not belong in regulations. This has led to a call to remove ‘entirely aspirational issues’ and put them into a separate ‘good practice’ guide.

The other overarching point concerns the over-regulation of modules which removes power from module coordinators to create assessments as they see fit. Specific regulations which have attracted the most criticism are the ones pertaining to the shift towards open-book exams, the 20-day requirement for the provision of assessment feedback, electives, and integrated assessment. At least one academic has stated they will consider leaving UCD if students are allowed to bring notes into exams.

 

Assessment Changes

Section 4.7 states that a student would be allowed bring an A4 page of notes into an exam, unless explicitly prohibited by a module coordinator. Respondents said there was no academic benefit to the change, it had no pedagogical basis, would reduce academic standards, and promote grade inflation. Several academics are concerned it ‘encourages exactly the kind of swotting and memorising we spend a huge amount of effort to discourage and dismantle from secondary school training.’ One described it as a positive move ‘in making exams less focussed on rote learning. However, making it the norm will create serious problems, in terms of increased student expectations and dissatisfaction (and possible legal challenge)’ where module coordinators opt out of the provision.

Another described it in stronger terms: ‘It is difficult to imagine that if this is happening anywhere in the university, our reputation at home and abroad will not be in total tatters. In addition to being difficult, if not impossible to police, it will establish a cottage industry in notes, and privilege those with better eyesight who can cram more onto the page… I would imagine that many academic, myself included, would look for other jobs than teach at an institution that countenanced such a fundamental breach of centuries of the established practice that has led students to master the material on which they are being tested. This would reduce us to being a diploma mill.’

4.13 states all final exams will be 2 hours long, unless a derogation is granted. Respondents thought it was too restrictive. One noted that ‘UCD is a very diverse place, why should the regulations insist on everything being homogenised?’ If the real purpose is to restrict exams going over three hours, it should just state this instead. Another said the regulations are contradictory as they try to make 10 credit modules easier to set up, but having two hour exams as their final assessment is insufficient.

One criticised the blanket ban on awarding marks for attendance, as those which offer marks for it see higher student attendance, with the ban being an example of micro-management. Similarly, a respondent stated that ‘over-regulation is unnecessary and will impede good educationally valid assessments that vary from the traditional format.’

The 20-day feedback requirement for assignments was cited as a potential issue for lecturers with large classes. Many agreed with the idea in principle, but think it is too restrictive. One suggested that ‘encouragement and support not regulation is the way to go.’ Another said that setting a specific time frame ‘does not take account of the diverse assessment loads across the university nor the quality or standard of that feedback.’ One School noted the requirement could lead to more appeals ‘as students who had not received feedback on time could appeal on the basis of a substantive irregularity in the assessment procedures.’

4.28 allows a student to withdraw before attempting assessment components which cover up to 80% of the final grade in a module. The Business School echoed a common complaint; students taking modules with a final exam could wait until the very end before dropping it, which will ‘disadvantage students seeking a place, will encourage module speculation and very late withdrawal.’ Recommendations suggested lower limits of 40 or 60%, or a time limit like six weeks.

Modules and GPA

Section 2.7 of the draft regulations covers GPA. Some respondents recommended the US model of having every module count towards the final GPA. One respondent state that first years are unwilling to engage with material as they know it does not count, thus making it more difficult for them to understand later material. Others suggested the promotion of 10 credit modules. One respondent stated ‘six modules per semester is crazy. They skim, cut, regurgitate – it’s the Leaving Cert all over again…. we need to be able to run year-long modules so we can promote student engagement over the winter break in effect from early December to late January with no accumulation of reading and learning.’

Sections 3.14 and 3.16 came in for widespread criticism. They provide for integrated assessment of modules whereby a student completes the learning outcomes. It was praised for courses with professional programmes as it could allow them to properly assess a person’s capabilities. A respondent gave an example of a medical student taking several modules on body systems, but needing a form of overall assessment on their ability to understand how diseases affect multiple body systems at once. Others said it would confuse students, has no academic reason, and is unclear, with one summing it up as ‘good in spirit but difficult to implement.’

Electives

The removal of electives for first year trimester one students was criticised by some. One respondent stated it ‘undercuts almost everything UCD has achieved through Horizons.’ The person believed it would drastically affect smaller subjects like Art History, which has two main introductory modules with a large number of places for elective students. Some who take these elective modules then choose to major in Art History.

‘I understand that UCD cannot afford the degree of student choice associated with real excellence, but this is a big step backwards, and one that harms the small schools in my college whose subject is seldom taught in secondary school. There is very little relationship, for instance, between Leaving Cert Art and university level Art History.’ Another respondent noted this provision could adversely affect students who wish to take a new language.

The final questions in the survey covered general comments on the Academic Regulations. Several respondents said it was overly technical. ‘UCD wants its module coordinators to be innovative and creative in the classroom and then gives them granular rules telling them what they can and cannot do regarding assessment, marking participation, and so on.’

One respondent noted that ‘most of the changes proposed here are modest, well-considered and entirely welcome. Several, however, are quite frankly bonkers and one (bringing material into the exam hall) will destroy our reputation and almost certainly lead me to fine another position if it is adopted.’

The survey was also criticised for only asking about the clarity of the regulations, but not asking about ‘our considerable concerns over the strain some of these proposals will place on our School in terms of capacity to deliver.’ The review and feedback process was described as ‘too short’, which was reflected in a hastily drafted document and consultation process.


Cian Carton – Editor

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