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More on Assessment

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Since publishing the marks from the November Assessment Exercise last week there has been a lively debate about how the marks are determined and what they mean. So here is a quick refresher post:
How marks are determined
Assessors are appointed from within the OCA network of tutors and curriculum leaders. All assessment submissions are viewed by two assessors. The first sets marks against the assessment criteria and writes feedback against each of the criteria and overall ‘feedforward’- comments giving advice on future study. The second assessor then reviews the submission and the first assessor’s marking. If there is a disagreement about any aspect of the marking there will be a moderating discussion and the mark can be changed. Changes at this point are relatively common.
On the final day of an assessment exercise all of fails are reviewed by the full group of assessors – this could be a group of six assessors and if there are disagreements the assessors will determine whether the mark should change. Changes at this point are somewhat less common.
Once the assessment exercise is complete from the OCA’s perspective, UCA send their internal verifiers (ie their subject specialist staff) and their external examiners (ie subject specialist staff from other universities appointed to give an independent view on the process)to consider the work and the marks and feedback proposed. The verifiers and external examiners do not meet the assessors and work independently from them. They do not see all of the work submitted, but samples from every course, all of the level 3 work and all fails.
Finally UCA convene an Exam Board which they chair and which is attended by the OCA Director of Assessment and Registrar, Curriculum Leaders, the UCA internal verifiers and the external examiners. This board considers any issues arising from the assessment and can change individual marks, marks for an entire course and can ask to have a submission reassessed. Changes at this point at relatively infrequent.
What do marks mean?
A key feature of the OCA model is that the marks at levels 1 and 2 do not count towards the final degree class. They are an indication to the student of where their work sits, but at this stage we would like to students to focus their attention on the feedback. At level 3 the final degree class is determined by a straight average of the marks attained for each level 3 course – so a student getting 54 and 67 will have an average of 60.5 and graduate with an upper second class degree.
The table above gives the distribution of the marks confirmed by the Exam Board for the November Assessment Exercise. One important note on the interpretation of this table; it is a distribution of the marks gained by courses. Since students may submit multiple courses to the same Assessment Exercise, this distribution is not the same as the distribution of marks by student. In this case, more than 50% of the 13 fails are accounted for by three students who submitted a total of 7 course.


Posted by author: Jane Parry
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66 thoughts on “More on Assessment

  • Thanks for this. It lets everyone see exactly what happens. I had not realised anyone could submitt more than two courses for assessment at the same time and wonder if there is any correlation between speed of completion/number of courses undertaken simaultainiously and mark?

  • ” They do not see all of the work submitted, but samples..”. This is like writing a summary of a book after reading only some sampled pages, or write a critic about a film after watching the trailer…isn’t it?
    With regard to the feedback, and I know this might sound too radical, but it is my perception, it is so short and ambiguous that is is almost meaningless in my opinion.
    Sorry to write that.

    • The amount of feedback you will receive from now on, including at this assessment, has increased. Feedback is now provided against each assessment criterion as well as a summary at the end.
      I do not concur that the sampling equates to reading the summary of a book. I will seek the stats of the number of submissions reviewed by external examiners, but I can tell you that it’s a significant portion of the total number of submissions. Jane (Director of Assessment)

    • As an assessor I feel compelled to respond to this point, Leopoldo. It simply wouldn’t be possible for the external examiners to look at everything. The kind of cost that this would incur (ultimately the student) would make formal assessment financially untenable. Your comment also suggests that the internal assessors’s academic judgment is invalid.
      With that said, due to the relatively low number of Level-3 submissions – where the marks count towards the final degree class – the external assessors DO look at each Level-3 submission.
      While I appreciate that feedback might have been vague in the past, as Jane has commented below, we are working within new guidelines now which I hope will be more satisfactory. I would like to point out however that not all HEIs provide written feedback for formal assessment.

    • Could someone tell me if the illustrators BA hons is a full degree, and whether it would be considered by employers?

  • As one of the fails in this particular batch I thought the feedback was very poor. To be criticised as not being creative enough in reference to abstract expressionism is nonsense in my opinion. Insufficient preparatory work was another comment, I thought expressionism was supposed to be in the moment not laboured through 2 or 3 versions. Having had 3 tutors for this module I feel badly let down.

  • It would be interesting to know how long the different assessor spend on each students work and if the they focus on different things – or do they get a rough feel within the first few minutes.
    For level 3, I found I had to benchmarking my work against others from other universities by going to degree shows – the Free Range in London is great and really helps you identify the gaps.
    The OCA needs to do something to address this point as you can be lulled into a false sense of security by the tutors comments only to be slain by the assessors marks – (but with limited explanation)
    Also watch out for changing assessment criteria – especially if you take more than a year to complete. They are posted but I have never been able to find them on the web site.

  • What is the logic of only counting Level 3 work for the degree classification please? I know that many HEI include a proportion of Level 2 work, with a weighted system, e.g. 40% of the marks from Level 2, and 60 % from Level 3. To my way of thinking this gives a more consistent measure of achievement (over five modules) than would a simple average of the only two modules at Level 3.

    • Institutions vary on how the final grade is calculated some even count level 4 work (our level 1) to some degree and others only level 6 (our level 3) like the OCA. Given our open entry ethos as opposed to a university’s minimum qualifications and entry after interview, it makes sense to allow for as much ‘catch up’ time as possible and build towards a final level that has all the rigour required to allocate a classification. To some extent I think the re-writing of the level 3 (6) modules over the last year or so was prompted by thinking about this and certainly strengthens the case for a solid basis for using this level as the classification indicator.

      • Thank you for making this important point, Peter.
        JDNS – I’m obviously unsure where you are coming from. If you already have a BA which was earned and classified upon than one level, then perhaps you have a point. But classing a candidate on their final year alone works to the student’s advantage. Although the final year may be more academically challenging, students are generally working at a higher level by this point. Perhaps this actually puts OCA students at an advantage over ‘bricks and mortar’ candidates, who are generally studying in a much smaller timeframe than OCA students, who have had the time to really think about their subject and medium, and develop as a practitioner. I would like to think that the fact that the first two levels ‘don’t count’ in terms of degree classification might really encourage students to take more risks and really go for it in terms of experimentation and exploring the potential of their medium; allow them to ‘find themselves’ free from the anxiety of ‘messing it up’ when it comes to the bit of paper at the end of it all.

      • I see what you mean Peter, but in my view the OCA approach leaves too much hanging on two modules in my view. This increases the influence that any adverse life events during Level 3 will have on the outcome.
        It also devalues the significance of Level 2 work in the eyes of many. Were Level 2 to count for something it would be taken more seriously, producing better work and higher attainment at both levels 2 and 3. I’m not saying Level 2 has to count for much, but some weight attached to it would produce benefits.

        • The course maybe modular but there’s a definite development arc embedded in it and it’s the quality of the final achievements that should be recognised; unlike some other modular degrees where the sophistication doesn’t necessarily increase through the modules, they simply cover different areas of understanding.
          In my experience students don’t have a problem in taking Level 2 seriously. They appreciate that it’s an important transitioning stage, from the realisation of photography as a sophisticated means of communication and expression to discovering the themes that they are going to address and explore with their new found facility at Level 3.

    • From someone who has gone through level 2 and is approaching their final level 3 assessment, including my level 2 marks would actually disadvantage me. I found the step up from level 1 to level 2 quite a big one, and the feedback from my first level 2 assignment was hugely different from anything I had experienced at level 1. In response to that, I like to think my work became more… interesting. I kicked on – I had to. On a technical level, my work is probably not that different than the early days, in fact it might be less technical. It’s the other side of things that I had to work on – the communication of ideas. That has developed throughout level 2, and I’m happy to say things appear to be working for me now. How well I’ll find out next March.
      On the subject of feedback. It’s an age old subject. I’ve briefly studied the arts in bricks and mortar when I was a kid, I’ve done a science degree through the OU, I even did their little photography module and some other formal photography qualifications. It’s true to say that in the past the OCA feedback has been “thin” after formal assessment, but it was a lot more than I’ve received from elsewhere. A number on a piece of paper doesn’t tell you much, which is all I have from some places. The fact is, we would all like to have a long discourse about what we did right or wrong, argue the toss about why a piece of work is better than others think (one of my Advanced projects could fall into this category). But it’s also the fact that it’s just not the way things have been done and I don’t mean just with the OCA. The fact that the feedback is reported to be increasing puts them a step above other places. Add to that the tutor feedback throughout the module and you should have some insight on how others see your work.

      • Further to and in support of Rob’s thoughts progress is not linear it’s stepped and no two students are the same.
        There are students who produce Level 2 quality work at Level 1 and Level 3 quality work at Level 2, even, exceptionally, Level 3 work at Level 1.
        Equally there are those struggling at Level 2 to make the step up from Level 1, but enlightenment can strike at any time and the student undergo a Damascene conversion, where the work suddenly becomes much more sophisticated and knowing. A tutor can’t force this, only create the conditions under which it’s more likely to happen by the discourse they frame the student’s work in.
        The tutor’s function is not to be an interim assessor but to advise the student in how to achieve their maximum potential. Inevitably there are going to be a range of abilities which result in a range of outcomes following a Normal distribution, particularly, as Eileen points out, with open entry. It is statistically inevitable that most results will be distributed around the middle values.
        The symmetry of the above distribution validates the results and the fact of the skew to the higher end indicates that value has been added but not to the extent that it’s perversely eccentric, which the external and the exam board would rightly question.
        There are boiler plate statements that are applied in the assignment reports twice during the course of the module giving the student a steer on their likely outcome, these are based on the potential to pass, i.e. achieve over 40% and go no further.
        Again consulting the distribution one sees that the majority of those passing achieve in the 50-60% band. As I’ve said before, coming from a self selected open entry this is a considerable achievement, to put oneself on a footing with the majority of undergraduate photography students in the country who have been through a selection process. To achieve the 60-70% band is outstanding and yet, perhaps influenced by school exam grade inflation, people are still disappointed, as a tutor I find that dispiriting.
        As a tutor to be continually chiding a student because they were going to achieve the result that most others achieve is completely counter productive and if they are approaching the work in the right spirit what else can they do anyway than do their best.
        One gives them the best advice one can commensurate with the stage they are at, both intellectually and emotionally and then the onus on them is to evaluate that advice and implement it, or not, in the way they see fit.

  • Interesting to read this – it proves that there’s a real rigour to the process, and that the degree is on a level footing with bricks and mortar institutions in the terms of the “value” of the degree, even though it is open entry.

    • Just to amplify that, this is a very valuable qualification accredited by an institution with an international reputation in the academic culture of photography.

  • Catherine
    Thank you for this. It was very illuminating and I’m glad that the feedback will be be denser. There will not be so many ,’Where and how did I go wrong moments?’ This can only improve the work on subsequent courses and will inform your next tutor, who may well be different than the one you have had on the course just assessed. They need to know your strengths and weaknesses to help you mature in your work.

  • Surely assessing on level 2 and 3 modules would be a sensible compromise to most of the debate here.. Or at least one of the level 2 subjects (the best from each student ) would not materially increase costs

  • Given that there is no minimum entry requirement at all for these degree courses, I think it is not a bad result to get such a small number of fails. Like Pete, I wonder if rushing to completion might have effect the scores of some of those who entered more than one module for assessment (I wouldn’t like to try).
    That said, I very much welcome the additional feedback that is to be provided from the assessors. I think it can be difficult if students have only their tutor for feedback and learning and no interaction with others, and good feedback from assessors can be very helpful. Of course the tutor’s role is core in developing students, but in addition I think attending study days and meeting other students either virtually or via Flickr or the student site and following blogs all help develop your understanding of the standard of work required. I’d encourage any student who feels a bit lost to take part in the wider community in any form that works for them – it really does make a difference.
    Speaking purely for myself, I am happy that the assessment is on level three work only. I am currently working very hard on my development at level two and it doesn’t trouble me at all that this is not assessed as I think the work I put in now isn’t quite where I want to be when I am assessed and that it will put me in a much better place when I start at level three (plus I’m actually doing it for its own sake in any event and not for assessment as such).
    Rob: I see a lot of degree work from various bricks and mortar unis and am very happy that the work of fellow students I see on Flickr and blogs is easily on a par with them.

    • Eileens comments on assessment at Level 3 mirror my own. I increased my mark significantly on my first Level 2 course and I would prefer the opportunity to consolidate that advance and have additional time to develop my voice before a final assessment.

    • I agree fully with Eileen’s well thought out response. Distance learning can be lonely and participating in the wider community via study visits and the various forums does help to put one’s work in perspective. I also think that the points made about using level one and two courses to develop one’s approach and to experiment are well made. To say that these levels don’t count overlooks the point that they are necessary stages on a development path towards level 3.

  • Thanks for posting that, its helped to know what the process is, and I’m glad that the feedback will be more detailed, I look forwards to receiving mine. Very interesting comment from Jesse about taking more risks at level 2, I’ve recently started level 2 and intend to use this year to grow as much as possible.

  • One very positive result of discounting all but the final level marks from classification is that it encourages those who are really taking the personal development aspect of a degree more seriously than the simple, ‘pay your fees and expect the highest classification in the shortest possible time’ attitude (and I am not suggesting that anyone who has posted here takes that simple view) to push the boundaries of their comfort zone to breaking point. Taking real risks when your final degree might suffer if it all goes pear-shaped is something that few would risk. Level 5 (our level 2) really is the time to do this and often in fact achieves good marks but were there a big risk I think a number of good students wouldn’t go there.

    • I am still a level one student but I really appreciate this possibility of taking my time to explore my own voice and taking risks with the next 2 courses on level 2, it is a chance to have this opportunity in our artistic practice. Specially as the tutors are often very supportive and let us explore our own interests.
      And as Eileen said, engaging with other students through forum really help to get an idea and benefit from others’ experience.

  • My work had now been assessed twice at level 1 and I am due to be assessed in March. The assessor comments I received tied in well with both tutors’ assignment feedback. I welcome the ocas commitment to detailed feedback in the future and see this as a positive step

  • I was unaware that only level 3 counted for the final degree. This has buoyed me somewhat in that although on TAoP at the moment I have room to improve through both level 1and 2, which for me is a godsend.

  • As I was reading down the comments, I realised all my thoughts around assessment has already been said by the usual suspects (Eileen, Rob, Clive, Pete, Peter, etc…) – distance learning is a lonely sport, and I can’t emphasise how important the Flickr student community has become to me, as well as having one student in a nearby city. Taking part (even if only online) already exposes one to what the larger group of students are up to, and one can already start to benchmark yourself… but the community also puts one in contact with the larger influences outside, needless to say, I find it incredibly important to go, see, and work out what is happening outside the college collective in terms of how my own work stacks up… and that takes time, a lot of time!
    As Peter H said, HE5 is the place to take risks, and those risks are only empowered (is that the right word?) through the ground work from HE4, which in itself is not easy, since you need to learn how to study, then learn tech related work, and then learn where to go – people or place based work (or somewhere in between).
    I’m very hesitant to comment in this way, because putting down about own experience can be taken as ‘this is what I did’, without leaving space for how ‘you’ can do it… but personally, I can’t say how glad I am HE4 and 5 don’t count, because I wouldn’t have experimented or tried some, no, make that MANY of the things I did do, if I knew they would count in the end… And here my thoughts connected to three courses assessed in one go? Again, I am hesitant to put down my thoughts, because I don’t want to start or continue a debate, but this makes me think of something that made me very angry (I don’t refer to anyone here, please note) – I had coffee with a person who wanted to become a student with OCA, and wanted to know more. The comment that ‘Oh, so it’s online… I can do that easily and use some of my daily photos to get through the modules quickly…’ I found insulting. I’m single, work nice enough hours, and I still took nearly a year per module, more so at HE5 and 6, and I still think I’m skipping through important stuff, because so much of the real understanding of my work takes time to solidify!
    Pete, I think the three courses must be at HE4, because I think you and / or Rob have run into the limits higher up (can’t do HE6 if you haven’t passed at least one HE5, can’t get assessed more than 3(?) modules per academic year even if over different events – exactly to stop students from rushing through the degree)… which makes me wonder if the opportunity for growth was used – if I only think about where I started at the first HE4 module and where I ended at the third HE4 one – worlds apart!
    Something not mentioned above is that, longer time students may know this but newer students may not, that the feedback we get after events now is already an immense improvement over a few years back, and please correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think many HE institutions (in the UK) actually give this…
    I’m sorry to hear some people are unhappy about the assessment process, I personally feel it’s fair and justified – good heavens, I didn’t even know TWO assessors look at all of my work, but I knew about the external assessors. I do have faith in that the external assessors would spot a difference in the quality of the sample of the work (lower levels) and the marks given, that they would then want to see all of that work to confirm…
    Maybe not totally fitting, but I mention this here, people may need to keep in mind, and think about yourself too, in terms of what you have experience in… in my job, we sometimes have to level (grade) students’ English level in order to place them in appropriate classes… I’ve been doing my job for over seven years, and I can place a student within seconds of speaking to him or her, and see their written tests… I can only imagine that the assessors (internal and external), who work in a broader art world and different colleges, have so so much more experience and view of the bigger picture, can assess even better.
    Sorry, this is now very long, but yeah…

  • I assume that the external examiners look at the complete work of a sample of students, rather than samples accross a large number of students. the internal OCA processes (two assessors ans assessor meetings) should ensure internal consistency. the external sampling then should ensure that there isn’t a systematic difference between OCA and nationally accepted standards. I would think this sampling would be most effective by in depth looks at a small number covering the full range of subjects and abilities

  • Leopoldo, personally I think OCA students are very fortunate in the amount of both formative and summative feedback received. There was no constructive feedback from exam or practical submissions when I was studying at University. All I received was a mark and an occasional caustic comment.

  • Thanks, Jane, for reminding everyone of the thoroughness of the OCA Assessment process. As a piece of anecdotal input, whilst attending an OCASA Meeting at OCA a couple of years ago, I stood on the balcony looking down at an ongoing Photography Assessment and can vouch for an atmosphere of intense and serious concentration. Might have been because they knew I was there, I suppose, but I don’t think so! 🙂

  • Excellent that this has been published, for all students to see. I hope that it will serve to shift the negative perspective that some might be experincing on the assessment.

  • Jane that is fantastic news. The first couple of courses I had assessed had very detailed feedback but this has got less and less each time I’ve had work assessed. This should provide real help to improve. I’m doing my penultimate course and know how much is riding on the final level 3 course next year for my degree classification.

  • I’ve come to this debate very late but never-the-less that’s allowed me to read all the other comments before I weigh in with mine. This could be quite a long comment though.
    It seems to me that a number of people are losing sight of what it is they’re doing on this course. Fundamentally it’s not about producing photographic images alone, it’s about understanding the concept of the art behind making photographic images and if the student produces magnificent images as well, so much the better. To expect the course to be all about good image production is expecting too much, it’s not about producing commercial images, it’s about producing art pictures, which don’t normally make it beyond museums and art galleries. If what you want is to produce the type of images that sell and make a you a living then this really isn’t the avenue to be travelling down.
    With regard to the way the submissions are assessed. I’m one of those who was bitterly disappointed with my last result and, as is my want, I sulked and muttered about giving up, but then something finally hit me.
    Clive was commenting on another forum about this subject and pointed out that the majority of marks are lost by students for creativity and interpretation. How many times have I heard him bang on about this and not really taken it in? Once you undertake this course it’s no use submitting work that looks similar to what’s produced by the commercial world for sale to make a living, you need to find a different way of showing the idea by using your creativity and it must be artful. That’s hard, believe me I know, I have problems in that area and that’s why I don’t get the marks I want, I get the ones I deserve.
    If Level 2 assessments marks were taken into account for the final mark at Level 3, I for one would definitely suffer as I need to develop my creativity much further than my current ability. Level 2 is a big step up from Level 1, at least to me it seems so anyway, and with what I’ve learned from Level 1 I now hope to get better with the two courses I have to complete at Level 2. If I don’t improve then that’s down to me and the result I get will be what I deserve.
    One last thing. I have found that the encouragement I get from my tutors has been exemplary, but my interpretation of what they tell me has been good work throughout the course is not the same as saying it’s good enough, or the best I can do, or that I’ll get good marks for what I’ve done. What they’re saying is that for my ability at this time it’s good work, no mention is ever made of what to expect from assessors. Now I, like many others, have taken the praise of their tutor as an indication that I’m going to do well at assessment and then feel let down when I get the result my deserves from the assessors.
    So I would say that we all need to stop moaning about the assessment method, you’d get nowhere at a B & M if you wanted to change their system, get your head down and work to the standards that are laid down and as advised by tutors.

    • Lerpy, you make some very valid points, but I’m sorry to say, I disagree slightly from you… I don’t believe all the modules simply HAVE to be ‘art’… The PWDP module for example is actually very much geared towards (with the open assignments) putting the photographer in contact with the commercial world surrounding photography (book cover design, a self-set photo essay for publication, etc.), and if I understand correctly, the new HE6 courses lean heavily on sustaining practice after finishing the degree. Believe me, I’m the last one to talk about ‘pretty pictures’ and commercial work… you know I like boring street corners and half-dead trees, but I wonder if a student wants to reach a very high level in say, fashion photography, or commercial documentary, the openness of the theoretical studies around these subjects (interests) would not count and weigh just as heavy as me reading Baudrillard to back-up my photos of fake flamingos… 😉

      • Lerpy and Dewald both make important points and they are by no means contradictory. Much of the best commercial work is done by those who have studies the arty side of things either formally or on their own account (just read/listen to interviews to see this) and picked up their techniques as often as not by working for a period as an assistant to an established practitioner (sometimes at the same time). My impression is that it is increasingly difficult for younger would-be commercial photographers to find this sort of assistant work without first undergoing a period of formal study at higher level, and that even those who have studies on a specifically orientated degree or similar course are finding paid placements difficult to find, still, a reasonably common core of study seems usual at levels 4 and 5 (our levels 1 and 2) that would seem to major on what Lerpy is talking about and often the specialisation, even on some courses labelled with a more commercial title like Fashion or even Documentary/Journalism, doesn’t really show till the final year (our level 3).
        I have to say, Dewald, that I would feel that Baudrillard, Debord and a slice of Hyper-modernism would be essential to any budding Fashion photographer… 🙂

  • Considering the thousands of dollars I will spend to get to the level three courses I am not at all happy that none of level 1 or 2 courses count anything towards the final mark. It means they are nothing more than a right of entry…not really good enough!for ~$10,000!!!!

    • Compare that cost to what you’d pay for a B & M course in the states, very much more, and the annual cost in the UK at £9,000.00 per annum still makes your figure look good.

  • As I understand it a degree is awarded for doing a certain volume of work at a certain level and then the degree classification is a measure of the quality of that work. So years 1 and 2 do count in that you have to obtain the requisite credits at levels 1 and 2. I.e. you have to pass the modules. To obtain a good overall degree mark, using the feedback at levels 1 and 2 is important, so it is unlikely you could scrap passes as a “right of entry” and then do well in the final year.

    • That is exactly the way to look at it Jim. The purpose of studying at Higher Education level (and I would like to think at all levels but current education policy makes me doubt this) is to gain knowledge, to develop ones thinking and abilities and so fourth. The award at the end is in recognition of this period of study and should not be an end in itself. There are ny number of organisations who will issue a ‘Degree’ certificate on receipt of a fee without the need for any study as an internet search will reveal!
      A Batchelor’s Degree, in Britain at least, is either passed or failed on the basis of achieving a minimum standard in a given number of modules or for a defined period of study ir whatever depending on the discipline. The classification of that pass has developed over time and on some subjects is based on final examinations, on others specific elements within the degree programme. British degrees often come in two ‘flavours’; Ordinary or Pass degrees that are not classifies and Honours degrees that are and sometimes it is possible to be awarded a Pass degree when studying for an Honours degree in some subjects. The difference between an Honours and an Ordinary degree has historically been the level of academic content at the final levels of the degree programme, often a research dissertation but increasingly it is an equivalent research study in some form that is different from a straight dissertation. Part of the thinking behind the re-jigging of our level 3(6) programmes has been to develop this academic element to make our Honours degree status tenable into the future.

      • Yes get all that but with only the level 3 modules counting to whether you pass and the level at which you pass, or fail, the level 1 and level 2 courses are nothing more than an endurance test. Which in my mind devalues them considerably, meaning why would you put your heart and sole into work that carries no weight in your degree score. You can just ‘get buy’ in these modules and go all out on the level 3..just like in the bad old days when only the final exam mattered. Why would you not follow a course that gives you credit along the way, else you risk the whole result on what may be a difficult last few years. As the T-shirt says “Sh!t Happens”
        This is in no way in the best interests of the students.

        • This is simply wrong. You cannot pass onto the final level without passing the first two levels and you cannot study the final level with any success without passing the first two levels and it is undoubted that the best results at the final level come from those who have studied the first levels to a high standard. As I said earlier if all you want is the piece of paper than buy one from the Intenet, if you want to learn something then study properly. If you think you can coast the first two levels and then get anything from the final one you are kidding yourself. This is not a training programme, nor is it a box-ticking exercise it is a degree course and a tough one at that.

        • I disagree fundamentally with your assessment of the best interests of students. If you prefer to see Levels 1&2 as an endurance test that you can simply “get by” in then that is your choice. In my view it is rather like suggesting that we can win a marathon off the back off a couple of 5 mile jogs.
          It is simply unrealistic to suggest that the majority of people can walk into level 3 and get a good outcome. If you don’t put your heart and soul into the lower levels you will have no real idea of your capabilities and interests when you need to apply them for real.

        • The reason for only including level 3 in the final degree classification is that most students work at level 1 and 2 isn’t of high enough quality to be awarded marks towards for full degree. The work is at the standard of level 1 or 2 which is not full degree standard, you can leave at the end of level 1 with a certhe, or at the end of level 2 with a diphe, so it does count towards a qualification if you leave before the end….but its just not at the same level as a BA Hons.
          At level 1 or 2 we are supposed to be developing our work to allow us to get to the right standard for level 3.

        • Here’s a student who knows that level 1&2 do not count, and yet she’s putting her heart and soul into it because they do ‘count’. Not in a tick box, been there, got the T-shirt way, but in a way that I know that everything I am learning, reading, doing, stressing over etc is adding to my knowledge and understanding—in a way that will help me produce the level of work that I hope to produce at level 3.
          When I enrolled, I tinkered with the idea of asking for Accreditation for Prior Experience and Learning for some of my level 1 courses—I have a Licentiate with the BIPP; qualified as an Adobe Certified Expert, taught Photoshop in both further education and commercial sector for over 20 years, and written a couple of books on Photoshop—thought that could count for something, and maybe I could leapfrog a little. I opted not to, I have been stuck on level 1 for what seems an eternity.
          And as I near the end of my first course, I realise just how much I have learnt. And that knowledge will give me freedom to experiment and develop at level 2—without fear of how that impacts on those results. If they counted, I’d be stressing over results and not taking the risks I intend to do at level 2.

  • Just to re-iterate, you have to pass all level 1 modules before proceeding to level 2. that is you need more than 40% in each modules and may be advised against proceeding to level2 if you were only just over 40%. Similarly for level 2 and the OCA may advise against continuing if you get below50% (this is according to the latest version of the student regulations). And as said before, much as you may want to go all out at level 3, if you hadn’t gained the required skills and knowledge previously, i doubt you would be very successful. If that approach was successful, it suggests maybe you could have skipped some of the earlier modules altogether using APEL (accreditation of prior experiential learning). If it did go pear shaped at the end there is a mitigating circumstances policy. I am completely guessing here, but I imagine in coming to a judgement, marks a lower levels would be a factor brought into consideration.
    Everyone will have different motivations, but for me getting a good mark isn’t the main one. It’s more a “because it’ s there …” feeling
    Jim, speaking as a student, from what I have gathered, not in any official capacity.

  • Malcolm “why would you put your heart and sole into work that carries no weight in your degree score”. How about for the love of learning!

  • It’s my observation that people who parachute into higher levels, with very few exceptions, disadvantage themselves as they don’t have the benefit of the acclimatisation to the paradigm that the lower levels, particularly Level 1, provide; rather like Nigel’s marathon training analogy.
    Also the lower levels, as was pointed out are rewarded with points earned.

    • Coming to the end of Level two, I have to say that agree with Clive wholeheartedly. I ‘APEL’d’ the first two courses on level one and I think I have suffered as a result since. It’s not an endurance test, it’s about development, understanding where we are as an artist in the wider scheme of things and the development of a coherent voice.

    • Ignoring some of the odd tangents above. As a successful student of multiple disciplines to a post graduate level and having studied throughout much of my life for professional and personal reasons, I sincerely believe this is not in your best interests to have your mark decided in just your final year. As a minimum you should expect your level 2 work to be a proportional part of your final score. None of my other eduction has followed this last year approach not even since as far back as finishing school. You can defend it all you like but the simple fact is it is that year 3 only marking is just cheaper to administrate and nothing more.

      • I don’t know about your circumstance Malcolm, but in the UK I think its normal practise for your degree qualification to rest entirely on your final years work sometimes by assessment of the work produced during that entire final year (as here)
        In the UK sometimes, in some subjects its done by exam in the last few weeks or so of your study, with a element included for practical work or a dissertation. In my experience that’s so much worse! Just a few days determining your entire mark. I’m so glad we don’t have that system here – although I don’t think it would work for arts subjects
        For me having a final portfolio of work that I can feel happy with and be able to justify to anyone, and having robust working practises for the future plus knowledge of the context I want my work to be seen in, those things are what matters, not the grade I get. The grade is just a recognition of those things.
        No-one is going to want to see my degree certificate once I’m finished, but I’d expect they might want to see my portfolio of work, I don’t know if that might include some of my level 2 work or not at the moment. But as long as the work was up to the right standard it might.

        • I’m reasonably confident that you’re incorrect about normal practice being final year work only. It’s not the case in any of the eight universities I’ve just visited with my daughter on Open Days, or in the three others I’ve worked for. However, it would be good to have the facts for the whole sector on this issue, rather than having to rely upon assertion from a relatively small database.
          In any case, these facts will not alter the other main fact, i.e. that OCA can and will choose their own assessment weighting. I would expect that this was done through a careful weighing up of the options before coming to a considered judgement. This decision is now being vigorously supported by tutors, as one might expect (I’m not a tutor for OCA). As students it seems very reasonable to express our views about this matter, and mine is that I hope OCA will reconsider.

        • Just replying to JDNS,
          Oh well! That’s how it is locally with art degrees and how it was when I studied other subjects in the past. I don’t know about other students but for myself this is a distraction from the things that really matter, I rely on our assessors to have good judgement in their field of expertise, and I would say with all confidence that I’m 100% happy they do in my subject area (photography). For me this worrying on about grades and how they are arrived at is missing the point, for me the point is the work itself and taking the opportunity to get yourself in a position to make your work the best you can.

  • I think you misunderstand Malcolm. years 1 and 2 are assessed and marked with full academic rigour, it just that the marks obtained don’t contribute to the final level of the qualification. So whatever the pros and cons, cost saving is not a consideration.

    • Increasing enrolment numbers result in Level 1 assessments being the most costly in terms of time taken so cost is indeed not a factor.

  • A degree won’t make you a commercial photographer but it will certainly give you an edge when it comes to making work that’s going to get you work at the higher end, even its not reflected in the final job that you turn in.

  • Defending it because we absolutely believe it advantages the students and is perfectly suited to a visual arts degree program. Those some way into the degree program seem to be testifying to their belief also.

    • I agree very strongly Clive. In my relatively slow progress through the levels I’ve followed lots of other students through the levels. I think even those who were exceptional at level one have made considerable progress over time and would not get the marks they they’re getting now on their level one work. Most people make a great deal of progress at level two. This simply doesn’t compare with a more knowledge-based degree. I know I’d be hugely disadvantaged personally but I’m not just speaking for myself here. I have an honours degree already and professional qualifications and I think OCA’s process very robust and entirely appropriate.

  • Just wondering, does the OCA/UCA provide an official transcript of all your modules and marks at the end of the degree. I know there are some who argue that this should be used as a mark of achievement and the degree classification abolished altogether. Persoanlly I am not that bothered either way, it is the quality of the learning experience that counts. This has been good so far!

  • The debate on how the mark determining the degree class is fascinating. I am grateful to JDNS for raising it. I would like to set out why we do things the way we do and when and how we will reconsider this policy.
    Why is the degree class determined by level 3 (HE6) marks?
    Clive, Peter and Jesse (all OCA assessors) have already given explanations but think it is worth restating: there is a developmental trajectory and we believe that with open entry, it makes sense base to judgments about student attainment on the work completed in the final courses in the degree. These final courses can be completed in up to four years. Extending the degree calculation to the final two levels potentially opens up the calculation to including marks gained on work completed over eight years.
    When will we reconsider the policy?
    This policy forms part of the validation agreement with UCA and was debated as part of the process which led to validation of the OCA degrees for the period to September 2015. I am happy for us to reconsider the policy, but any change will have to be a joint OCA/UCA decision. I expect the process leading to revalidation to commence in September 2014.
    How will we reconsider the policy?
    Our starting point will be to look to the evidence. I will ensure we examine the distribution of marks gained by graduates to test the hypothesis that a change in weighting of marks at level 2 and 3 would result in major changes in the degree classes of degrees gained.
    We will also listen to the voice of students. Specifically, we will ask the Students’ Association to consult students and make representations on behalf of the student body.
    Changing the policy would have no cost implications. Work is assessed with the same degree of rigour regardless of level.
    Jane Horton
    Director of Curriculum and Assessment

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