University College Dublin (UCD) has announced today a range of new academic supports designed to take into account students’ precarious situations amid the current COVID-19 pandemic. The new academic regulations will affect assessments since March 23rd and remain in place until the end of the trimester. The new supports are the product of the ‘Working Group on Supporting Students in Assessment During Covid–19’ which was set up last week to propose new supports to the Academic Council Executive Committee (ACEC). The working group was chaired by Prof Marie Clarke, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, had three Students’ Union Officers also on board, with a total of 7 members in the group. The ACEC accepted the temporary amendments to UCD’s academic regulations in a meeting yesterday.
In an email to students today, Registrar and Deputy President of UCD Mark Rogers has said: “The Working Group concluded, and we all agree, that a universal approach does not work,” nodding to recent calls for a blanket ‘No-Detriment’ policy, and continued by saying: “our focus should continue to be on you as a UCD student where your needs are addressed on an individual basis and on how we provide you with the appropriate supports within our current assessment and grading frameworks.”
In an unprecedented move, the university has recognised that every UCD student has extenuating circumstances. The range of new measures are intended to provide academic relief to students struggling to maintain academic standards and complete their assessments. Students have been calling nationwide for academic supports and a ‘No-Detriment’ policy. Following extensive petitioning and lobbying, these new measures are set to address student calls by tackling individual student issues on a case-by-case basis.
In a comment to the Tribune, Deputy President Rogers has said: “Supporting our students and ensuring the integrity of the University’s assessment processes have been our primary concern. The extraordinary circumstances everyone, including our students, currently face have required us to put a full range of measures in place that will support our students and deliver examinations that are fair, equitable and robust. We have provided clear guidance for our faculty and our examination boards on how the extraordinary circumstances of each of our students should be taken into account. I am confident that the student-centred professional approach of our faculty will ensure that each student’s grade properly reflects their achievement in these challenging times.”
Under the new regulations, “assessment has been amended to take account of the current unusual circumstances and challenges faced by students and faculty during Covid 19.”
The university has issued new guidelines to academic staff which include a range of temporary grading regulations that will remain in place until the end of the trimester. The Programme Examination Review Committee (PERC) will oversee the grading of students within the university. The committee is made up of Deans, Associate Deans, Academics and Heads of Teaching and Learning from each School.
Faculty and Module Coordinators will review their grading standards and have been asked to recognise that “students will not have had an equivalent learning experience as in previous years,” and that they should consider “revising thresholds for particular grades.”
Where a module consists of continuous assessment that are to be completed before the upcoming exam period, Faculty and Module Coordinators will “review the component grading. If there are students who have failed components, [they will] consider the options that might best support the student in this case and offer an in-module resit if considered appropriate.”
Following the grading of assessments, Faculty and Module Coordinators will review each students’ grades “over the past number of stages” and “look for anomalies and comparisons.” They have also been asked to “review the class cohort using the following prompts:
“Is this grade distribution as you would have expected? How does this grade distribution compare to distributions on the same module (if available) over the previous three years? Are there adjustments that should be made to this grade profile and how might this be achieved to ensure equity across the whole cohort?”
They have also been asked to look at individual assessment components and ask: “Does the individual student performance look consistent across the module? Are there any particular patterns that would suggest their performance from week 8 onwards has been adversely impacted?” Following this process, “if there is evidence of a suspected adverse impact, the assessment component should be reviewed.” A similar screening and review process of aggregate and specific grades of each student over the past few stages will occur at the School Examination Review Committees. This is to ensure that the Schools are abiding by the relevant new regulations.
The Programme Exam Board (PEB) will also review all students’ grades, with a particular emphasis on final year students. “In cases where GPA calculations are just below a higher degree award, module grades should be reviewed and a decision on the final GPA calculation should be made by the PEB.”
Students’ grades will be reviewed for the current trimester and in the context of their grades for the previous three years where possible. Any grade discrepancies in the context of the current crisis will be reviewed by PERC. The committee will review all student grades “with a particular emphasis on final year students and predicted trimester GPA (as the GPA covers multiple trimesters).” The group will also “confirm that all students grades have been considered in the context of the general extenuating circumstance recognised.”
In a situation when a student’s grades are “out of alignment for the Spring Trimester in one/several modules,” the new regulations recommend increasing the student’s grades to “reflect the GPA calculation from the Autumn trimester.”
Where a student’s grades are “out of alignment compared to previous years,” particularly in the case of lower grades, the new regulations recommend “increasing all module grades by at least 1 grade point eg D- to D etc.” Where a student has failed 20% or more of their modules, each grade will be reviewed again by the module coordinators in an effort to assist the student where possible. No late submissions of coursework will receive penalties under these new rules.
As the new measures treat all students under extenuating circumstances, students only need to apply for extenuating circumstances where they are seeking to have specific components of a module assessed at a later stage without academic penalty. “In the context of Covid-19,” the Schools must allow these assessments to occur “wherever possible.”
Where students are scheduled to sit a resit assessment this trimester, they will no longer be penalised or capped for their resit grade but will now be assessed according to the full grading scale. Resit attempts will be graded and not considered pass/fail as per the current regulations.
Taking into account the current health crisis, students will be allowed to resit modules attempted in this trimester if the PEB considers it “appropriate to do so based on a student’s individual profile over previous stages.”
The new regulations do not propose any changes to the resit process: “Any changes to standard resits would be extremely difficult to implement and have long-term consequences, also raising issues in relation to fees and registration.”
In situations where students are unable to complete assessment components due to a range of reasons including “lack of access to suitable technology such as computer, or lack of access to internet and connectivity,” credit will not be awarded unless these assessments are completed within a set period prescribed by the School that will “not exceed two trimesters.”
“Where a student has intellectually engaged with the activity but that engagement has been materially affected by restrictions imposed by COVID 19, the School may recognise that the student has passed the module based on components completed and award the grade achieved for those completed components as the final grade.”
In situations where it is not possible for students to be given the opportunity to complete any outstanding components of their assessments, “the lack of credit associated with the module should not preclude progression,” meaning students may still progress with their degree even if circumstances make completion of grade components impossible.
In recent weeks, there has been growing demand from students for the implementation of a No-Detriment policy in universities. A general definition of the policy is that any mark received in an assessment that is below your current GPA will be GPA-neutral (this will not lower your current GPA). Any mark received in an assessment that is above your current GPA will increase your GPA accordingly. If you pass your assessments, you will only increase your GPA from its current average. Due to the reported unfeasibility of its implementation in UCD, these new academic regulations introduced by the university are designed to tackle student issues on an individual level, rather than a blanket policy.
An online petition calling for the policy, has gained almost 8,000 signatures. UCD students have been learning remotely since March 23rd as the current university shutdown has prompted the introduction of online learning for the remainder of the academic year. Thousands of students nationwide have called for academic leniency, claiming some may face disadvantages. The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) have announced measures that closely reflect student demands, with NCAD introducing a “Safety-Net” policy which has successfully been introduced in a number of UK universities.
In less than two weeks, UCD students will begin their online assessment period. The Tribune recently conducted a survey which found that 41% of rural students described their internet connection as poor, and 33% described it as fair. Less than 5% described their internet connection in rural Ireland as excellent. Contrast this with Dublin students – only 14% describe their connection as poor and 11% indicate an excellent connection. With virtual college requiring a strong internet connection for a number of activities, these statistics suggest a barrier to education based upon geographical location and broadband strength. Overall, a significant number of students reported difficulties experienced as a result of poor internet connection. Students have indicated that existing connection difficulties have been worsened by the increase in household members working from home and recreational intake of online media. These new measures from the university are set to take into account student difficulties such as this.
Deputy President Mark Rogers concluded in his email today: “I want to thank UCD SU for their constructive contribution and to again reassure you that each individual student’s performance in this trimester and their results profile from previous stages, will be reviewed, examined and taken into account at every stage in the grading process and the integrity of those grades and your awards assured for this year and into the future.”
Conor Capplis – Editor