Beyond NFA: Dr John Harris discusses how we will develop a more flexible assessment framework

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As we work towards the objectives of our education strategy, we’re exploring the potential benefits of a more programme-centred approach. This includes consulting how we could develop the NFA (New Framework for Assessment), to support this new, more flexible approach, whilst maintaining robust standards.

The Director of Academic Registry, John Harris, recently started offering a series of briefings. Designed for those thinking about curriculum change, he’s called them Beyond NFA: breaking the mould.

He writes:

It’s twenty years since we set up our modular framework for programmes, and ten years since that allowed us to create common assessment regulations. These two things helped us to be clear about what we offer and transparent in the rules for our degree awards. We’ve more than doubled in size over that time, as well as raising our reputation for teaching and learning.

That represents a huge success. And it hasn’t meant one-size-fits-all. We may use special terminology, and timetable units of standardised dimensions, but you have only to look at the assessment of a programme like the BSc in Architecture to see the scope for flexibility.

The downside to this long-term commitment is that it might constrain us — not just in the language, but in the thought-patterns it promotes. It can limit our sense of what we could make better.

So we’ve recently held six sessions for colleagues in departments who are starting their critical re-evaluation of curricula and assessment patterns. We wanted to help to “break the mould” in that sense: to identify the myths and set aside easy assumptions about what we can’t do. It’s been a reminder for long-timers who saw it all happen, and a revelation to those who’ve joined us and have perhaps known nothing different! Judging by the quality of the discussion in each session, there’s a real interest in this. We’ve all imagined how we could rewrite our regulations to support the developments that the Centre for Learning & Teaching is promoting.

It’s really important that these two strands of work combine well, with benefits for both students and staff. From our history of the past twenty years, we've known we lie towards one end of the spectrum of assessment load. We’ve made some adjustments, but now is the time for some more productive change. It’s a good moment to reflect on where we go next, and what graduates, their employers and wider society in the next twenty years will value from a University of Bath degree. We’re confident we can find a new balance for rigorous assessment and degree standards that will work effectively for us all.

John and his team are offering more of these sessions now to wider groups.

John will also be able to answer questions at our Town Hall meeting at 10:15, Thursday 14 December at The Edge. Professor Peter Lambert will be chairing a panel that will discuss our plans to transform curricula and assessment across our UG and PGT programmes by 2020/21. Please register your attendance so that we have an idea of numbers.


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