Identifying and Alleviating Assessment Stress in Higher Education

Matthew Pike, Dave Towey, James Walker

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

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Purpose – High stress levels have become increasingly prevalent among
students and staff, both academic and administrative, in higher education (HE).
Much of this stress has been linked to the mass, “one-size-fits-all” approach
characteristic of traditional assessment methods, formative and (especially)
summative. Motivated by a desire to better understand and potentially alleviate
this, we have commenced a study through which we aim to identify the causal
factors of stress in the context of HE assessment practices. Inspired by the
disruptive impact digital transformations have had in traditional industries, such
as AirBnB in accommodation or Uber in taxi services, we anticipate future
educational affordances that will enable increasingly personalized learning
pathways. Such pathways should facilitate less stressful HE experiences,
including assessments. Our research goal includes exploration of such potential.
Design/methodology/approach – Our unique situation in a Sino-foreign HE
institution has additional layers of relationships and international contexts (a
British education delivered through English in China) that add further pressure
to the already stressful HE assessment landscape. Prompted by this, we are
conducting an investigation into university stress, from the perspectives of both
students and teachers. In additional to literature reviews, using tools including
questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups, we aim to capture an accurate
picture of how and why stress levels vary for different HE stakeholders over the
academic year. Our data collection targets both students and staff. We also
explore the various emerging technologies that facilitate more personalized HE
experiences, aiming to identify those most likely to alleviate assessment stress.
Findings – In conducting this research, we hope to identify good practices
within HE for assessments that consider the stress and wellbeing of students and
staff. Recent technical innovations, such as MOOCs and flexible course
structures, including personalized learning pathways, may provide the means to
reduce assessment-related stress among students. Similarly, automated and
digitized learning systems can reduce stress amongst staff. The scope and
specificity of these technological systems, and how they can best serve actors in
an academic environment, are poorly understood – in the context of stress,
something we aim to address through this work.
Originality/value/implications – To the best of our knowledge, this is the first
attempt at modelling stress in this manner in an academic context. We hope this
work provides the basis for future research into understanding and alleviating
assessment stress in HE
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2019 International Conference on Open and Innovative Education (ICOIE 2019)
EditorsKam Cheong Li, Eva Tsang
Place of PublicationHong Kong
PublisherThe Open University of Hong Kong
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9789888439621
ISBN (Print)9789888439621
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event2019 International Conference on Open and Innovative Education - Open University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Duration: 10 Jul 201912 Jul 2019


Conference2019 International Conference on Open and Innovative Education
Abbreviated titleICOIE 2019
Country/TerritoryHong Kong
CityHong Kong
Internet address


  • stress
  • assessment
  • higher education
  • personalized education


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