Flexible Assessment Timeframes


One aspect of a student-centred learning approach is to allow students flexibility in assessment timeframes. Assessment supported by flexible timeframes may assist students who have to juggle their own mix of work-life events in order to succeed in their online study. This strategy is also useful when quality and assurance of learning is more important than ‘when and how’ they learn something.

One of the key findings in a recent research study into the impact of time for students in higher education was that assessment timeframes strongly influenced ‘the way in which students organise their study time. This tends to place a narrow focus on completing assessments, rather than on processes of learning and developing subject/discipline understanding’ (Burke, et. al, 2017, p. 6). One aspect of adopting flexible and adaptive learning practices is to use student-centred assessment methods through flexibility in assessment submission timeframes. This could include having an open date for submission, as in a self-marking test within a Smart Sparrow lesson or staggered due dates throughout the session instead of one fixed date to submit an assessment task, or varied due dates depending on the topic chosen for a particular task.


When students are offered the opportunity to manage the timing of their assessment, learning becomes more personalised and individualised. The interaction with the teacher in these circumstances may be enriched. Flexibility in submission of assessment tasks rather than having to meet strict timelines is a study arrangement that’s better suited to meet the varying learning needs and goals of students, especially where they typically have ‘competing imperatives of study, work and personal commitments’ (Burke, et. al, 2017, p.3). Allowing students to submit when they feel most prepared rather than having to submit according to an imposed due date offers greater incentive to engage more deeply with content.

In Practice


EEB106 Community Cultural Education Program

Teaching Staff

Penny Stephens


EEB106 is built around students experiencing a placement in a community organisation, such as a Community Literacy Support (CLS) program, PCYC, Sport and Recreation Centres, Out of School Hours Care, etc. It is a subject without content - although there are lots of pertinent resources for students - and is a zero point subject. Students are given either Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory as a final subject grade.

The rationale for community organisation placement is to provide students with the opportunity to engage with young learners whom they may not normally encounter; for example, the socially disadvantaged, or those with disabilities. However, students may be placed in a community organisation where their programs are only conducted during NSW school time and not during school holidays. Or, if their placement was with a sporting organisation, the particular sport they might be interested in is not currently ‘in season’. The key issue faced in subject delivery is, therefore, to provide as much flexibility as possible for an assessment timeframe, where the timeline constraints of outside organisations do not often align with students’ own course study commitments at CSU.


EEB106 is offered in every session to provide students with the best chance of completing the diverse placement opportunities and meet subject requirements in a session that best suits the arrangements they were able to negotiate with an approved host organisation. Once students have commenced a community placement, they have an 18 month timeframe in which they can complete their 35 hour commitment.

Considering the diversity of placement opportunities, the requirements for students’ community experience placement are designed to be very flexible. This ensures that they can achieve the learning outcomes in whatever community educational setting they are in and in a timeframe that best meets the needs of both the host community organisation and the student. When the required minimum 35 hours of community placement have been accrued, students then submit their Community Cultural Education Report and timesheet using EASTS.


Typically, assessment efforts are divided into two types, formative or summative. Both types help to build up a more accurate picture of a student’s knowledge, skills and abilities.

The following assessment methods are better able to accommodate a flexible submission time-frame, depending upon the subject/discipline context:

The use of flexible timeframes is particularly suited where assessment is not tied to fixed outcomes or specific instructional content, but to certain goals and outcomes for learning - where a subject is based upon an approach that informs the course about student learning.

Flexible timeframes for assessment task completion might work well where outcome based learning (demonstration of skill) is required as part of the course, such as in paramedics, nursing engineering or vet science. Flexible submission timeframes could also be attached to self and peer assessment, reflection portfolios and student-negotiated learning plans. Another area where flexible arrangements for assessment tasks may add value to student learning is in workplace learning or other placement subjects.


Set up a two-week period during which an assessment task needs to be submitted. Students then have the flexibility to commit themselves to a date they will submit, up to a final due date. Students are advised that no marked assignments will be returned prior to the final due date.


An important consideration to take into account is whether the varying of assessment due dates or other flexible assessment timeframes will meet the requirements of any external credentialing body.

Finally, where flexibility has been allowed in assessment timeframes, a fuller consideration needs to be given to subject design, of how best to integrate or compensate other online learning elements such as teacher presence and interaction between students.


Technology-related means for facilitating flexible assessment timeframes include:


Interact2/Blackboard Learn Adaptive Release rules that are based upon a number of selection criteria, such as date, Grade Centre grade, task completion. Also you can set open/close dates for assessment tasks that use Discussion forums, Tests, Blogs or Journals.For more information on the various Interact2 tools, refer to Interact2 Help pages.

Smart Sparrow

Smart Sparrow is an adaptive and learning technology that provides the tools to create, deploy, share and analyse lessons that are interactive and adaptive. Smart Sparrow can capture, measure and report nuanced details about student learning, providing individualised feedback to students that lets them know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. This means that teaching staff have the ability to give each student a more personalised learning experience by providing real-time feedback and adaptive pathways that, for example, may specifically target misconceptions.

Sign up for a free Smart Sparrow account. To commence the development process for a Smart Sparrow adaptive lesson, use the DSL Service Request System (SRS) icon from the desktop of a University PC, or this online.


Information is found on the DSL website for ePortfolios, and help for PebblePad is found once you log onto that platform. To commence the development process for PebblePad as an ePortfolio, use the DSL Service Request System (SRS) icon from the desktop of a University PC, or online

Further Reading

Burke, P. J., Bennett, A., Bunn, M., Stevenson, J., & Clegg, S. (2017). It’s about time: Working towards more equitable understandings of the impact of time for students in higher education. Retrieved from SHURA

Irwin, B. & Hepplestone, S. (2011). Examining increased flexibility in assessment formats. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(7), pp. 773-785. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2011.573842

Looney, J. (2009). Assessment and Innovation in Education. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 24, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/222814543073

Rideout, C. (2017). Students’ choices and achievement in large undergraduate classes using a novel flexible assessment approach. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. Pages 1-11. Published online: 28 Feb 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2017.1294144

Varadharajan, M., Carter, D., Buchanan, J., & Schuck, S. (2016). Understanding career change student teachers in teacher education programs. Retrieved from UTS OPUS

Wood, L .N. & Smith, G. H. (1999). Flexible assessment. Retrieved from CiteSeerX