Chapter 2 - Managing Education Provision in the event of Exceptional Circumstances

 

  1. Managing Education Provision in the Event of Exceptional Circumstances
    1. Introduction
      1. This chapter must be consulted in conjunction with other relevant documentation, including;
        1. The Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook.
        2. The Credit and Qualifications Framework.
        3. The Quality Review Framework.
        4. The External Examining Handbook.
      2. The guidance within this chapter is underpinned by the following generic principles that apply in all instances. These are:
        1. The equitable treatment of students.
        2. Transparency.
        3. Consistency.
        4. Maintenance of the academic standards and integrity of University of Exeter awards.
        5. Maintenance of a high quality academic experience for students which provides value for money.
        6. The interests of students should be protected (allowing students to succeed and graduate or progress), and for their qualifications to hold their value over time.
        7. The standard of the Exeter award cannot be compromised.
      3. Where roles are named, these may need to be substituted for an equivalent role at a Partner Institution.
    2. Definitions
      1. Exceptional Circumstances can be defined as sudden and unforeseen and which temporarily and significantly impact upon the delivery of teaching and other learning opportunities, and assessment to a cohort of students. Depending on the circumstances these may effect one or more cohorts of students. Examples of such circumstances include (but are not limited to):
        1. Natural disaster
        2. War
        3. Disease outbreak
        4. Industrial action
        5. Widespread/ significant IT failure
        6. Unforeseen building closure impacting access to vital resources
      2. Where Exceptional Circumstances are deemed to have impacted the entire University an Exceptional year will be declared and policy decisions taken will be applied to all taught programmes. It is anticipated that ‘Exceptional Years’ will rarely be declared.
      3. Declarations of exceptional circumstances and Exceptional years should be signed off by the Dean for Taught Students or the Associate Dean for Taught Students. These declarations must be reported to the Education Board.
      4. In the event of the declaration of exceptional circumstances or an Exceptional Year, the policies and practices as described below may be utilised as deemed necessary. The nature of the exceptional circumstances will determine which of the policies and practices might be necessary. It is not envisaged that all of the policies and practices will be needed in every period characterised by exceptional circumstances.

    3. Recovery of learning opportunities in the event of exceptional circumstances
      1. Introduction
        In exceptional circumstances, teaching and other learning opportunities may not be provided or may not be provided in the way initially planned. This guidance is intended to suggest alternative ways for providing teaching and other learning opportunities that have been disrupted by exceptional circumstances.
      2. Guiding Principles
        1. If teaching and other learning opportunities have not been provided as originally intended, an initial assessment will need to be undertaken by the Faculty (or delegated School) as to whether or not the learning opportunities can be provided by alternative means. For example, if a transmissive (non-interactive) lecture is cancelled, it is likely that this can either be rescheduled or suitable alternative delivery methods can be employed to provide the learning opportunity. However, in the event that a field trip is cancelled, it is unlikely that the learning opportunity can be replicated in its totality.
        2. This guidance applies to all Faculties within the University as well as Partner Intuitions. Where the Faculty (or delegated School)/ Partner Institution deems that a learning opportunity cannot be provided satisfactorily by alternative means, advice must be sought from educationpolicy@exeter.ac.uk.
        3. When providing learning opportunities through alternative methods, this should take place in advance of any assessment related to this learning. Where this is not possible, it is likely that the assessment will need to be adjusted following the guidance set out in the ‘Adjustments to assessment process and ratification of taught student progression and awards in exceptional circumstances' section.
        4. If learning opportunities cannot be provided in advance of assessment, then they should be provided by the end of the academic year, as this may have implications for student success on subsequent modules and assessments in a later stage of their programme.
        5. Where roles are named, these may need to be substituted for an equivalent role at a Partner Institution.
      3. Alternative Provision
        1. Finding an appropriate method of alternative provision for missed teaching and other learning opportunities will be dependent on the type of learning activity that has been disrupted.
        2. The alternative provision should, as far as possible, provide students with the same learning opportunity, taking into account the aims and objectives, intended learning outcomes and student experience of the provision that was originally planned.
          For example, if a transmissive (non-interactive) lecture is cancelled, the provision of lecture notes, reading materials, and/or a recording of the same lecture given previously, alongside an invitation for students to ask follow-up questions in Office Hours, may be sufficient. However, if exceptional circumstances prevent the provision of a seminar session, in which students would have been able to interact with peers as well as academic staff, alternative provision may have to provide equivalent opportunities for student-student and student-staff interaction (whether virtually/face-to-face, synchronously/asynchronously, etc).
        3. A list of possible alternative methods of provision are listed below. This list is not exhaustive, and provides examples. In the event of disruption due to exceptional circumstances, it is recommended that multiple methods are considered to ensure learning opportunities are appropriately recovered, but it is not intended that all need to be undertaken.

          • Upload previous lecture recordings (or equivalent presentations) to the online Virtual Learning Environment.
          • Upload additional learning resources to the Virtual Learning Environment, including readings, web-based and other electronic resources.
          • Use of mobile devices, multimedia management a capabilities, social media and online learning platforms.
          • Provide notes and teaching materials from cancelled taught sessions online.
          • Provide a sample of coursework or other assessments online.
          • Organise one-to-one or group drop-in sessions to discuss module content or more general concerns about the disrupted teaching and learning opportunities.
          • Encourage students to attend Office Hours sessions, and extend the quantity and duration of such provision.
          • Organise replacement and/or additional lectures, tutorials, workshops, etc. to address some or all of the missed content and/or to discuss forthcoming assessments.
          • Within the parameters of what is permissible in terms of module/programme approval processes, and in consultation with the students, re-design the remainder of the course in terms of syllabus plan, learning opportunities and/or teaching methods.
        4. Associate Pro Vice Chancellors for Education (or nominees) will be responsible for deciding if the alternative provision is satisfactory in terms of mitigating the effects of teaching and learning opportunities that have been disrupted due to exceptional circumstances.
        5. It is advised that records are kept, detailing how missed teaching learning opportunities have been provided by alternative means. These records will be needed to be reported to APACs and may be needed when considering academic appeals or complaints.

    4. Adjustments to assessment process and ratification of taught student progression and awards in exceptional circumstances
      1. Introduction
        In exceptional circumstances, changes to existing assessment processes may be necessary to ensure as far as possible that student outcomes are not impacted by those circumstances. A circumstance would normally only be so judged if it has the potential to have a material impact on student academic performance, or if it will not be possible to assess student academic performance in the usual manner.

        The guidance set out below is provided to address exceptional circumstances that require adjustments to the assessment process and the ratification of taught student progression and awards. It is presented in the sections as follows:

        - Guiding Principles
        - Adjustments to assessments
        - Individual student mitigation
        - Actions at APACs
        - Referrals to the University APAC
      2. Guiding Principles
        1. If circumstances prevent learning opportunities (either planned or substituted) from being provided, or from being provided in time to allow all students to engage with the content in advance of assessments, the approach to assessment may need to be adjusted. This document provides information to assist Faculties (or delegated Schools) in determining when a change to assessment should be made, what change might be needed, and what process should be followed.
        2. Principle
          Within each Faculty (or delegated School), decisions should be made about where adjustments may be necessary to ensure that students are only assessed based on the learning opportunities that have been provided. A series of questions are provided below to assist in making decisions about what form of adjustment will be appropriate in which circumstances, and what level of authority and oversight may be required.
        3. Communication with students
          At module level, students will need to know of any precise adjustments being made. Of all adjustments, students must be informed, and with regard to adjustments that may have a material impact, students should be consulted where possible (e.g. significant changes to the form of assessment). Further advice on appropriate consultation is provided below corresponding to each type of adjustment.
        4. General points to note in formulating mitigation plans
          1. The advice in this document is provided in the context that overarching institutional timelines for assessment cannot be changed, therefore plans must not be made which require alterations to dates for APACs, submission of marks to APACs or for the release of results to students.
          2. Assessments will need to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which they have met the learning outcomes for the module and the programme, and any adjustments made must not compromise the integrity of academic standards.
          3. Adherence to the Teaching Quality Assurance Manual, and the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook within that, should be upheld. If circumstances arise which necessitate divergence from either, advice must be sought from educationpolicy@exeter.ac.uk.
          4. Where changes are made to the timing of individual assessments, to accommodate revised schedules of planned learning activities or the provision of substituted learning activities, care must be taken to review the balance of assessments overall, to avoid the bunching of deadlines and to provide sufficient time for student revision/preparation. This will be assessed by the Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Education (or nominee).
          5. In order to allow for changes to be made to assessments at short notice due to exceptional circumstances, the Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education (or nominee) can provide final approval without the need for External Examiner approval. All changes to assessments must be recorded and must be reported at the APAC. Please also refer to section 5 of the External Examiners Handbook.
      3. Adjustments to assessments

        The policies and processes listed below would be in place of those listed in Section 2.2 Setting and Submission of Assessments in the Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook.
        The following questions provide guidance as to how adjustments to assessments should be managed:

        a) Have the original planned learning opportunities been provided on time?

        - Faculties (or delegated Schools) should undertake a review of the impact of exceptional circumstances with a view to identifying those modules and assessments potentially affected.

        - In many cases, the original planned learning opportunities will have been provided on time and no adjustments will be required. In some circumstances it will be necessary to adjust the planned approach to ensure that students are fairly assessed on the basis of those learning opportunities that have been provided.


        b) If the original learning opportunities have been provided late, substituted, or not provided at all, has consideration been given to the timing, content, and method of the assessment?

        - If planned learning opportunities have been provided late, been provided by substituted activities, or not provided at all, a review must be undertaken by the Module Convenor as to whether the original planned assessment remains valid. If, on consideration of the timing, the content, and the method of assessment, it is agreed through consultation with the Director of Education and Student Experience (or nominee) that no adjustments are required, then the assessment can go ahead as originally planned.

        - If the planned assessment is no longer valid, then consideration should be given to options i, ii and iii below.

        i. Consider timing of assessment
        • Consideration will be given to whether the timing of individual assessments can be altered, to accommodate the scheduling of rearranged or substituted activity.
        • If the timing of the assessment can be changed to offer a fair and reasonable schedule to all students (on consideration of the overall balance of assessment deadlines) then the timing of the assessment will be rearranged.
        • Examination periods will not be rearranged, but when scheduling the examination timetable consideration may be given to the timing of examinations for individual modules impacted by the exceptional circumstances.
        • Adjustments to the timing of assessments need to be undertaken in view of the overall balance of the assessment load, and therefore should be agreed with the Director of Education and Student Experience, in consultation with the Module Convenor, and reported to the Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Education (or nominee). Such changes must be recorded as this information will be required later in the assessment process, when considering the impact of exceptional circumstance and how effectively this has been mitigated.

        ii. Consider content of assessment
        • As well as the timing of assessments, consideration must be given to whether assessment questions and activities can be revised to accommodate those learning opportunities that have been undertaken as normal, and those that have been disrupted by the exceptional circumstances (i.e. with regard to subject content knowledge). For example, if the major assessment is by formal examination, then the Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Education (or nominee) will need to be assured that the examination paper is consistent with the learning opportunities provided.
        • In making such changes it will be necessary to ensure that the revised assessment still meets the Intended Learning Outcomes for the module.
        • Such changes to the content of assessment questions/activities are the responsibility of the Module Convenor and must be agreed in consultation with the Director of Education and Student Experience, and reported to the Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Education (or nominee). Such changes must be recorded, as this information may be required later in the assessment process, when considering the impact of exceptional circumstance and how effectively this has been mitigated.
        • If such changes are necessary for an assessment that might have been set earlier in the term, then the Faculty (or delegated School) must inform students that the expectations for assessments set earlier have been changed to align with the learning opportunities provided. Assessment criteria will need to be amended accordingly.

        iii. Consider redesigning the assessment
        • If it is not possible to change the timing or content of the assessment to accommodate those learning opportunities that have been undertaken, then consideration may be given to the redesign of the assessment (e.g. an alternative form of assessment).
        • In redesigning assessments it will be necessary to ensure that the revised assessment still enables students to demonstrate the extent to which they have met the Intended Learning Outcomes for the module.
        • Such changes must be applied across a whole module cohort. This is to ensure parity of experience.
        • When there are changes to the assessment so that the form of assessment differs significantly to that which has been published to students (i.e., in the module descriptor or programme specifications) students must be informed about the changes and the reason(s) for them, and where timing allows, give their written consent before any such changes are approved. When timeframes do not allow for student consent to be gained, changes will be permitted without written consent, on the basis that it is in the best interests of the students to do so.
        • Such changes require the approval of the Director of Education and Student Experience (or nominee), the Faculty Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Education (or nominee) and the Dean for Taught Students. Details of the actions taken should be reported to the Programme/Discipline APAC.

        c) Can changes be made to module learning outcomes?

        • In rare situations, which must be avoided if at all possible, it may be necessary to amend the Intended Learning Outcomes of the module to reflect those learning opportunities and assessment opportunities that have been provided.
        • Students must be informed about the changes and the reason(s) for them, and where possible, give their written consent, before any such changes are approved. However, when timeframes do not allow for student consent to be gained, changes will be permitted without written consent, on the basis that it is in the best interests of the students to do so.
        • This course of action will need to ensure the integrity of the Intended Learning Outcomes at the level of the programme (see Programme Outcomes as articulated on the relevant Programme Specification) and will necessitate approval of the Director of Education and Student Experience (or nominee), the Faculty Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Education (or nominee) and the Dean for Taught Students. The impact on Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body requirements for Intended Learning Outcomes should be considered, if applicable. Advice should also be sought from the central Quality and Standards Team.


      4. Individual Student Mitigation

        In exceptional years the number of evidence free extensions and the maximum length of such extensions available to students within the BART submission system could be extended as deemed appropriate by the Dean for Taught Students.

        This would be an exception to the policy and process listed in Chapter 10 - Mitigation: Deadline extensions and deferrals in the Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook.

      5. Action at APACs
        Programme/Discipline APACs should aim to ratify progression and results in accordance with existing processes and deadlines.

        The following questions and answers / areas seek to provide advice and guidance concerning changes in practice required during exceptional circumstances.
        1. Have changes to assessments been made prior to the Programme/Discipline APAC?
          1. As above, in order to allow for changes to be made to assessments at short notice due to exceptional circumstances, the Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education (or nominee) can provide final approval without the need for External Examiner approval. All changes to assessments must be recorded and must be reported at the APAC.
          2. Where changes have been made to assessments (i.e. assessment content or design), these should be considered by an External Examiner (wherever possible) to ensure it is appropriate in demonstrating the acquisition of the Intended Learning Outcomes for the module, in advance of the assessment being undertaken. If prior external verification has been received, a written report of the changes made should be received at the Programme/Discipline APAC. A detailed record of the changes and the confirmation of the External Examiner should be noted in the minutes.
          3. Where adjustments have been made and not verified in advance, but an appropriate External Examiner will be attending the Programme/Discipline APAC, a request should be made to the External Examiner to confirm the appropriateness of the changes at the Programme/Discipline APAC meeting. A detailed record of the adjustments and the response of the External Examiner should be noted in the minutes.
          4. Where an External Examiner is not able or willing to ratify adjustments, the referral of those decisions affected must be presented to the Faculty (or delegated School) APAC where it should be clearly noted in the minutes.

        2. Have necessary adjustments to the marking process been identified between assessment completion and the Programme/Discipline APAC meeting?
          1. Where the need for an adjustment is identified between the completion of an assessment by students and the relevant Programme/Discipline APAC meeting, consideration must be given to marking processes/assessment criteria, bearing in mind the need to assess the Intended Learning Outcomes for the module, and fairness to all students affected. An example of such an adjustment would be alteration of marking processes/assessment criteria following retrospective analysis of the completed assessment and the impact of the exceptional circumstances, for example, when answers to selected examination questions are excluded from consideration when calculating examination marks.
          2. Faculties may wish to discuss proposed adjustments at a preparatory meeting of the Programme/Discipline APAC, although responsibility for finalising and approving module marks, confirming and approving student progression decisions, and making recommendations for awards, classification and consequences of failure must remain with the full Programme/Discipline APAC. The membership of any preparatory meeting is stipulated in Chapter 7 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook.

        3. Have any of the modules in a student’s profile been affected by the exceptional circumstances?
          1. Faculties (or delegated Schools) will be asked to flag any modules affected by the exceptional circumstances, and where a student’s profile includes such modules, care must be taken to consider the profile and the potential impact on classification or progression.
          2. Faculties (or delegated Schools) may wish to discuss the impact of exceptional circumstances on students’ profiles at a preparatory meeting of the Programme/Discipline APAC (see above) and submit recommendations for consideration at the full Programme/Discipline APAC.

            Note: any adjustments of the profiles of individual students must also be identified for further decision at the Faculty APAC.

        4. Is the Programme/Discipline APAC quorate?
          Please refer to the External Examiners Handbook, section 5. 

        5. Adjustments to assessment outcomes/ scaling
          When exceptional circumstances have an impact upon a cohort of students on a module and create anomalies in mark distributions, it is sometimes necessary to consider scaling marks. Incidences where scaling is applied and the rationale for these must be carefully minuted by Programme/Discipline and Faculty (or delegated School) APACs to enable review. Guidance on how/when to apply scaling can be found under 5.7 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook. Further advice can be obtained from educationpolicy@exeter.ac.uk.

        6. Guidance for Mitigation Committees
          Exceptional circumstances as defined at the start of this document are not considered to be grounds that give rise to a need for individual mitigation. Programme/Discipline APACs will consider student profiles as set out above. Faculty (or delegated School) Mitigation Committees must, however, consider carefully any applications where there is evidence that the impact of the exceptional circumstances (e.g. natural disasters or industrial action), has contributed to or exacerbated mitigating circumstances (e.g., contributed to a change in mental health needs or impacted on adjustments required for a disability). Any recommendations for further adjustment must be reported to the Programme/Discipline APAC.

        7. Guidance for APACs
          APAC powers that may be exercised only in exceptional circumstances (these are in addition to those listed in Chapters 7 – 11 in the Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook):

          1. Setting aside an assessment mark or module mark when considering progression, classification or condonement.
          2. Substituting a proxy mark for an affected assessment where there is sufficient evidence of a student’s performance in other examination/assignments.
          3. Applying retrospective mitigation in the form of deferral (uncapped reassessment).
          4. Ability to recommend adjustments to the degree classifications of individual students.
          5. Ability to offer a student who has a referral or deferral, which would need to be undertaken in a subsequent academic year, and thereby prevent their normal progression, the choice of either;

          Option one: Completing the referral/deferral assessment(s) at the relevant time as normal i.e. in the subsequent academic year. The following points would apply;
          1. This would constitute an attempt at an assessment, either via referral or deferral, and would usually be sat in the subsequent academic year without attendance at scheduled teaching events.
          2. RWA students have access to online learning resources related to the curriculum/assessment pattern of the year in which they were taught rather than having access to live/current teaching events occurring in-year.
          3. Students would have access to online learning resources related to the curriculum/assessment pattern of the year in which they were taught rather than having access to live/current teaching events occurring in-year.
          4. Progression would be on hold pending successful completion of these assessments and in alignment with module completion timeframes as outlined in Chapter 2 - Setting and Submission of Assessments, of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook. Failure to complete within the stipulated module timeframes as a result of Exceptional Years could necessitate a repeat year.
          5. A student could be referred or deferred in multiple assessments/ modules per stage and with more flexibility during Exceptional Years.
          6. Students would not pay tuition fees (with the exception of fees for any referrals) and would not be eligible for student finance.
          7. Students sitting referrals and/ or deferrals in the subsequent academic year would be classed as registered students.
          8. Module marks, in relation to any referrals, would be capped at the pass mark.

            Or;

          Option two: Having a partial repeat year for the modules they have not yet passed. The following points would apply;
          1. Repeat study students would be in attendance and fully registered for the term(s) they are repeating and would then be shown as inactive for the rest of the year.
          2. Repeat study students would have access to relevant teaching activities and learning resources as any standard student would.
          3. Repeat study students would be assessed on the curriculum/assessment pattern of the current year (rather than that of the year in which they were originally taught).
          4. Progression would be on hold pending successful completion of these modules.
          5. Repeat study can be of modules or whole years but requires submission of supporting evidence (with the exception of PSRBs) in order to be approved; usually the option to repeat a whole year or module is only available once per programme of study, however where APACs have granted a period of repeat study as a result of an Exceptional Year, this should not count against the student should they subsequently require/ where they have previously required a period of repeat study in non-Exceptional Years.
          6. Repeat study students are charged tuition fees on a pro-rata credit basis; repeat study years will count towards the total number of years for which a student is eligible for student finance (a maximum of five years of student finance is available).
          7. Marks from repeated modules would not be capped, unless a student was referred on a repeated module during the Repeat Study year.
          8. Usually repeat study students would not be repeating any modules they had already passed as per standard repeat study rules (unless PSRBs required it). However, where an APAC believes a student has been severely impacted by an Exceptional Year, they may permit passed modules to be repeated. In addition, where the assessment patterns have changed students may need to repeat all the assessments.
          9. Where an APAC believes a student has been severely impacted by an Exceptional Year, they may permit a further opportunity to resit failed elements in order to improve the final outcome.

            If students do not make a choice, option one would be the default.

        8. Repeat Study Students:
          The following Repeat Study rules, as outlined in Chapter 11.5 of the Assessment Handbook, should be relaxed in Exceptional Years only.
          In order to support Repeat Study students more comprehensively (during/as a result of an Exceptional Year) to allow them to perform better in the subsequent year, the following rules will be relaxed;

          • Usually the option to repeat a whole year or module is only available once per programme of study; however, where APACs have granted a period of repeat study in an Exceptional Year, this should not count against the student should they subsequently require/ where they have previously required a repeat in non-Exceptional Years.
          • Where APACs believe a student has been severely impacted by an Exceptional Year, they may permit passed modules to be repeated.
          • Where APACs believe a student has been severely impacted by an Exceptional Year, they may permit a further opportunity to resit failed elements in order to improve the final outcome.

        9. Study Abroad Students
          In cases where it is deemed that students studying abroad have been subject to exceptional circumstances which have disrupted their studies, the APAC will take this into consideration when calculating the mark for their year abroad and make recommendations to the Dean for Taught Students to determine how the year abroad should be calculated. Options available include the APAC powers for exceptional circumstances as detailed in this chapter, as well as the possibility of reverting to pass/fail for the study abroad.

        10. Students on Placements
          In cases where it is deemed that students on a year- or stage-long placement have been subject to exceptional circumstances which have disrupted their studies, the APAC will take this in to consideration when calculating the placement mark and make recommendations to the Dean for Taught students to determine how the placement mark should be calculated. Options available include the APAC powers for exceptional circumstances as detailed in this chapter, as well as the possibility of reverting to pass/fail for the placement.

      6. Referrals to the University APAC
        1. In exceptional circumstances, our current regulatory framework allows Faculties (or delegated Schools) to refer decisions taken at the Faculty (or delegated School) APAC to the University APAC. The primary responsibility of the University APAC is to oversee assessment, progression and awarding from an institution-wide quality assurance perspective, as outlined in Chapter 7 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook. It has the following Terms of Reference:
          1. To receive reports on Dean's exceptions.
          2. To ensure the consistent application of the Academic Regulations across Faculties (or delegated Schools).
          3. To identify and share good practice from Programme/Discipline APACs and Faculty (or delegated School) APACs.
          4. To identify areas where policy clarifications or enhancements are required.
          5. To make institution-wide recommendations on quality assurance matters relating to APACs.
        2. During exceptional years, as determined by the Dean for Taught Students, the University APAC must convene in advance of the release of marks.
        3. Exceptional circumstances could lead to compromised assessment processes relating to either an individual candidate or cohorts of students but could also compromise the operation or constitution of Programme/Discipline and/or Faculty (or delegated School) APACs (e.g., inquorate meetings). In these instances, the University APAC may be required to consider and ratify recommendations put forward by the relevant Programme/Discipline and/or Faculty (or delegated School) APACs.
        4. Referrals must be made to the University APAC via the submission of written reports in advance of the meeting or oral reports during the meeting. Further information and advice can be sought from educationpolicy@exeter.ac.uk.

Last reviewed November 2022

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