The 24 hour window returns...

Last year’s changes to the academic regulations were met with heavy criticism by many students. One of the most unpopular changes was the abolition of the 24 hour window for submitting coursework.

The 24 hour window is to return as a result of student feedback, a drop in the National Student Survey (NSS) polls (see <<3) and analysis of how the new regulations have worked one year on; with one major difference. Submissions made after 2 pm on the due date, but within the 24 hour window, will be capped at 40% for undergraduates and 50% for postgraduates.

This move by UWE could be interpreted as a backtrack, that will be part of an incremental abolition of the 24 hour window in light of the problems brought by throwing students in at the deep end last year.

Vice-Chancellor, Steve West, told WesternEye that the abolition of the 24 hour window had undoubtedly had an influence on certain areas of UWE’s NSS results: “What we’ve done is responded to student feedback, and you will see some changes this year.”

Other changes made at the beginning of last year were a one resit limit, for which students are charged a £50 fee and the introduction of printable submission slips on blackboard. WesternEye put it to the Vice-Chancellor that £50 seemed an arbitrary figure and possibly unaffordable to some students.
“It’s not arbitrary. There was a lot of research into what goes on across the country in terms of resit fees. This university, for years, didn’t have resit fees and other universities did ranging up to about £150. We went with the median.”

Professor West also stated that UWE implemented resit fees to cover the costs of running resits, but also to “encourage slightly different behaviour”; in reference to an alleged ‘resit culture’ among students: “What went wrong with the F12 [last year’s] regulation changes was that we did not communicate it well. Although we did work with the SU we missed some fundamental goals and we cannot afford to do that again.”

The question of the University effectively offloading the printing cost of submission slips onto students has raised some eyebrows. UWE maintain that the new system is partly due to sustainability measures as, theoretically, there will be no surplus submission slips printed. This is slightly disingenuous as submission slips are standardised and do not change from year to year; therefore a surplus of slips does not necessarily mean waste.

Your correspondent was privy to a conversation between two lecturers at a Frenchay bus stop recently, in which the concept of totally electronic submission was floated as the ultimate goal, where appropriate. Granted, the benefits of paperless submission are great in terms of sustainability, efficiency and UWE’s green policy. But in view of the often temperamental, sometimes shambolic mechanics of the much touted Blackboard, perhaps it is some way off.

Vice-Chancellor West told WesternEye that electronic submission was something UWE was working hard towards, “If we can introduce electronic submission and electronic feedback, then this cuts out the need for anyone having to bear the cost of hard copies.”
“This would also allow us to track more easily, when work is submitted, when it is returned and the quality of the assessment. It needs a bit more investment, but if we can do that then it would make life a lot easier.”

Getting the formula right in a university of nearly 30,000 students is never going to be an easy task. West’s snowballing policy of “communication is the key” has some promising blueprints and may well produce results. The reintroduction of the 24 hour window, in some semblance, is a direct result of this communication and the VC was perfectly candid about UWE’s previous failures in this area.

How the new, capped 24 hour window and other academic regulation changes are received by students in practice is something that WesternEye will monitor closely during the assessment period of the autumn semester.