As previously advised on Teche, a new assessment policy is set to launch on 1 July 2021. A number of policies have been merged to a new assessment policy and accompanying procedures. The new policy will apply to assessments offered in Session 2, 2021.

This post will explore requirements around defining assessment workload for students in terms of hours of effort. Previous articles have covered limits to group marking, limits of exam duration and timely provision of assessment criteria and feedback.

Defining the workload of each task a student needs to undertake in a unit is important because it allows students to plan their study regime. Tasks include class time, lecture time, lab time, self-paced learning tasks, assessment tasks, readings and associated independent study. The guidance and limits on the volume of work to be undertaken in a given unit is also present in university policy and in the Australian higher education standards. However estimating the time-on-task required for successful completion is not a simple matter, even when learning analytics of online courses is undertaken (see Kovanovic et al 2015). A rule of thumb suggested by Carnegie Mellon University is to multiply the time it tasks you to do the task by 3 or 4 to arrive at a reasonable estimate for a novice student to do the same task (CMU n.d.). Asking students to provide an estimate of the time they took on the task is a possibility, but people are usually not accurate so this needs to be taken as an estimate only. A more detailed discussion on learning task time estimation is available from RIT (2014) and Wake Forrest University provides a unit workload estimation tool for reading, writing assignments, tests, study groups etc based on research on reading and writing studies of students (Rice University 2016). Those using a iLearn Quiz can look at the grade report to see the ‘time taken’ in order to improve future estimates for tests and exams.

Policy changes

The update to assessment policy in this area is by way of a clarification rather than a change.

Old policy states: “Assessment workloads, and the timing of assessments across a course/program, will be considered to ensure they are reasonable and sustainable for students, staff and organisational units”.

The new assessment procedure states (clause 14):

Volume of learning in a standard unit of 10 credit points equates to 150 hours (overall learner time spent on unit). When setting an assessment task, careful consideration should be given to:

  1. a. the time required to complete the task in relation to the learning outcomes and the overall volume of learning for the unit;
  2. b. the weighting of the task;
  3. c. the timing of tasks; and
  4. d. the impact on staff and student workload.

The context of task within the course and the nature of the task are important to consider when defining the task, hours of effort and weighting of the task. Some notable clauses in the assessment procedure include:

  • Clause 20: adds that “Assessment workloads and the timing of assessment tasks of essential units (as defined in the Curriculum Architecture Policy) within a course must be taken into consideration throughout the design process to ensure that they are reasonable and sustainable for students, staff, and organisational support units”.
  • Clause 16: “No single assessment task can be worth more than 60 percent of the total assessment of the unit.”
  • Hurdle tasks must have hours associated with them but Clause 15 says “some assessment tasks – for example, to meet requirements for Work Health and Safety, Academic Integrity, or accreditation bodies – will not receive marks and will not receive a weighting.” Further details on the use of hurdle tasks is in clauses 26-33 that defines and outlines the conditions under which hurdle tasks may be used.

Note on a related matter: specific policy was developed for examinations such that the *writing time* of an examination must be no greater than 2 hours (or an exemption must be approved by faculty board).

What staff need to do to get ready

Do not define all assessment as a monolithic block in the CMS. Ensure each assessment task is separately specified in the CMS. The CMS must include the number of hours of student work expected for each learning activity, component and assessment task in the unit.

Be aware that the CMS does not automatically add-up the hours entered for each task, so be sure the individual task hours add up to the required total for the unit.

There should be no ‘zero’ hour tasks. Note that while a task may have zero % weighting applied (e.g. for a minimum competency or OHS hurdle task), all tasks must have hours of effort associated with it.

Remember that policy clause 16 sets a maximum of 60% for an assessment task. Consider how a large project may be broken down into phases such as proposal or specification, the delivered product, and presentation or reflective component with each defined and weighted separately. This will facilitate staged and timely feedback to students.

Resource links

Note: Information correct as at date of article publication. Always check Policy Central for the up to date versions of all policies.

Posted by Mathew Hillier

Mathew has been engaged by Macquarie University as an e-Assessment Academic in residence and is available to answer questions by MQ staff. Mathew specialises in Digital Assessment (e-Assessment) in Higher Education. Has held positions as an advisor and academic developer at University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, Monash University and University of Adelaide. He has also held academic teaching roles in areas such as business information systems, multimedia arts and engineering project management. Mathew recently led a half million dollar Federal government funded grant on e-Exams across ten university partners and is co-chair of the international 'Transforming Assessment' webinar series as the e-Assessment special interest group under the Australasian society for computers in learning in tertiary education. He is also an honorary academic University of Canberra.

One Comment

  1. […] More guidance on defining student workload (hours) for assessments and assessment weighting. […]


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