Going modular means more work

December 26, 1997

THE MOVE to modular courses is helping to clarify academic standards, but the price is a heavier workload for students, staff and external examiners, warns a report published this week.

A study commissioned by the former Higher Education Quality Council found that over 65 per cent of institutions are within the first four years of introducing a modular system.

The process of going modular has generally improved the way what is to be assessed on a course is defined and described, helping institutions to be clearer about the academic standards they aim for.

However, it has also brought a range of problems, including assessment overload for staff and students, according to a report on the study published by the HEQC's successor, the Quality Assurance Agency.

Unless the move to modularisation is properly and carefully structured, it can lead to marking standards being compromised, and more opportunities for plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty in coursework assessment, the report says.

Assessment workloads have grown as the number of academic hurdles students have to clear to complete a course has risen, along with the number of explicit learning objectives set for each module.

The smaller the module unit the larger the number of separately assessed units in a programme, increasing the assessment burden on staff and students. This effect is worst in institutions that have semesters and have six separately assessed modules per semester, the report says.

These changes can lead to students gearing their learning simply towards course assessment requirements; less time for feedback; resource management problems; more pressure on learning resources, and on space for examinations and exam timetabling; and new demands on external examiners.

Managing Flexible Curricula in Higher Education: the Architecture of Modularity, is available from Distribution, UCAS, Fulton House, Jessop Avenue, Cheltenham, price Pounds 9.

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