Reshaping the Exam Experience: Insights from Birmingham City University’s Hybrid Model Transformation

By Tim Burnett, e-Assessment Association
26 Oct 2023
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Reshaping the Exam Experience: Insights from Birmingham City University’s Hybrid Model Transformation

This article by Tim Burnett of the e-Assessment Association provides an overview and analysis of Birmingham City University's award-winning Hybrid Assessment Model. Developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BCU's model blends traditional and digital assessment to enhance flexibility, accessibility and academic integrity. Burnett outlines how the consultative approach engaged stakeholders to co-design the model. Quantitative and qualitative measures demonstrate reduced exam anxiety and increased satisfaction under the new blended model. According to Burnett, BCU's willingness to experiment and adapt led to transformative outcomes, as evidenced by the model's recognition with multiple international e-Assessment Awards in 2023. Situating BCU as a leader in assessment innovation, Burnett provides key insights and takeaways for institutions exploring more equitable, engaging modes of evaluation in a digital era. The piece contributes timely knowledge on blended assessment from BCU's pioneering example.

The e-Assessment Awards programme holds a unique and global position, sharing and celebrating the many excellent projects that demonstrate the value that technology can bring to high-quality assessment, whether formative or summative, high or low stakes. The 2023 awards, sponsored by the British Council, encompassed all sectors of education from schools, through further and higher education to workplace training and professional exams.

With 62 entries from 12 countries and 21 finalists, the 2023 awards demonstrated the level of imagination, innovation, and research that is leading change in the industry globally.

Drawing particular attention, Birmingham City University (BCU), achieved notable success by winning multiple categories. BCU was recognised with the Best Transformation Project Award and both the Best Practitioner Team and Best Practitioner Individual awards.
 

The BCU Story

In the wake of the pandemic, BCU, like many other institutions was faced with an extraordinary challenge. Their student body was split down the middle when it came to the future of their learning. Half sought the return to traditional teaching and assessment methods with a campus focus, while the other half embraced the possibilities of progressive e-learning. The solution? The Hybrid Model—a visionary approach designed to bridge these divergent needs, ensuring engagement, inclusivity, and flexibility.

The pandemic forced international students to stay put, necessitating an innovative approach to e-learning. BCU's answer was to build upon its Digital Assessment Centre pilot, which had initially been a small on-campus experiment.

This experimental pilot swiftly evolved to meet the demands of a post-COVID world, transforming the institution's approach to assessment. The resulting Hybrid Model offered an inclusive, and innovative way forward, blending traditional and digital assessment.

Over the past year, BCU has fully embraced digital assessment, conducting all exams using digital exam software. Remarkably, students have rapidly adapted to this online assessment model, with the majority now preferring remote assessments. Less than 30% of students opt for on-campus exams, showcasing the model's success but also recognising the need to have an inclusive mindset.

Appreciating that this was more than just a technology challenge, BCU made it their mission to bring all stakeholders with them on the journey. To aid this transition, BCU's team has provided comprehensive digital assessment training, workshop sessions and digital literacy skills training. The results have been remarkable, with a significant reduction in exam anxiety, demonstrated by a decline in extenuating circumstances applications since implementation.

The Hybrid Model is a dynamic implementation aligning with various organisational goals, including enhancing the student experience, reducing staff workload in marking and supporting BCU's estate strategy. Its success is evaluated through qualitative feedback from students and staff, along with comparisons of submission rates and extenuating circumstances claims before and after implementation—so far, the results have been positive.

Recognising the issue of digital poverty, BCU took a proactive approach. They initiated a digital support fund, providing laptops to students with household incomes below £25,000. This initiative not only improved access but also increased student engagement and success rates.

Implementing the Hybrid Model at BCU has been a complex undertaking, involving various stakeholders, software companies, students, academic staff, and senior management. Clarity and collaboration have been paramount, with staff leading key decisions, particularly regarding academic integrity.

The project has transformed learning and teaching at BCU by reshaping the university's approach to examinations. This innovative model has become an integral part of BCU's culture, embraced by all stakeholders as the future of exams.

BCU's journey with the Hybrid Model reflects its commitment to experimentation, adaptation and continual improvement. The institution is not only evolving in response to student and staff needs but is also in alignment with the ever-changing landscape of technology and assessment approaches.

During the award ceremony in June 2023, Ian Castledine of RM, the awards sponsor, shared the judges' feedback and justification stating that the BCU Hybrid Model had been lauded for its collaborative and insightful design, with the panel of international judges recognising how it is delivering a clear and measurable impact. The panel was particularly impressed with the project's evident passion for effecting meaningful change in the digital assessment sector.

Among some very strong competition, the BCU Hybrid Model stood out for its strong emphasis on putting the learner at the centre, exemplifying an approach the panel found commendable.

The consultative design approach was highlighted as a key strength, underpinning the model's capacity to deliver improved learner experiences and positive outcomes continually.

The judging panel appreciated the team's willingness to share their findings and insights with other institutions, thereby contributing significantly to the broader eAssessment landscape. This was seen as a positive step towards collective improvement and growth in the field.

The fact that the BCU team was also awarded both practitioner awards by an entirely different panel of judges in the form of the e-Assessment Association board, only serves to underpin the work of Tom Ashmore, Elliot Spence, and the Team at BCU.

Nominations for the 2024 e-Assessment Awards will open in late 2023. The BCU team will be presenting at the 2024 BETT conference where they will be sharing more detail about the project including measurement and performance analysis.

 

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