Innovation or inhibition? Factors affecting students’ experiences of flexible assessment arrangements – a multidisciplinary perspective

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


Higher educational institutions are increasingly expected to create learning opportunities independent of time and place, offering easily accessible teaching and assessment arrangements which respond to students’ individual learning needs as well as those of the curriculum. There is emerging evidence of flexible approaches to assessment that may promote students’ engagement and academic achievement by enabling them to personalise their learning experiences (i.e., Beer et al., 2022; Elkington et al., 2021). However, studies reporting such flexible strategies and their impact across different modes of study remain limited with little emphasis placed on students’ perspectives on, and experiences of, the role they play in learning processes and what they need to benefit from such practices. This paper therefore seeks to identify the key factors that shape students’ experiences of flexible assessment arrangements – that is, how students understand and are enabled and/or inhibited by different flexible assessment practices in their learning. This paper analyses students’ qualitative views of flexible assessment deployed as part of hybrid learning strategies on multiple undergraduate programmes between 2020 and 2021, namely: Chemical Engineering, Interior Design, Business Management, Policing, Social Work, Education Studies, and Paramedics. The student views are drawn from an individual institutional dataset informing part of a wider multi-institutional study exploring inclusive assessment practices deployed during the pandemic (QAA Embedding Inclusive Assessment Attributes, 2022).

Inductive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) revealed several recurrent factors affecting students’ experiences of assessment arrangements, each including key enabling and inhibiting features for realising (or not) greater flexibility in student assessment experiences. The paper outlines how, at the level of learner experience, these factors centre around three interactional categories: epistemic value, relational structures, and pragmatic design. Evidence of the most effective strategies for achieving flexible assessment arrangements are discussed including the utilisation of a variety of accessible and inclusive approaches, digital tools, and implementation of a balanced range of authentic assessment tasks enabling all students to demonstrate what they know, understand, and can do. The paper draws out key challenges and opportunities for practice innovations, before discussing the pressing considerations for developing and implementing future attempts at flexible assessment design. It is suggested that prioritising flexibility in assessment from a learner-focused perspective means de-centring measurement (assessment-of-learning) and shifting focus beyond simply determining viable ‘alternative’ assessment arrangements, on to more sustainable approaches and designs that proactively recognise the needs and circumstances of students, giving them more control and ownership over assessment processes.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2023
EventAssessment in Higher Education Conference - Manchester
Duration: 21 Jun 202323 Jun 2023


ConferenceAssessment in Higher Education Conference
Abbreviated titleAHE
Internet address


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