No compromises. Assessment for inclusion and the revolution! – Review – CRADLE Symposium – 21 October 2021

In this review of the first keynote of the symposium CRADLE PhD Student Anastasiya Umarova reflects on Dr Jan McArthur’s presentation regarding social justice and assessment for inclusion.

What do cheating, footy and assessment for inclusion have in common? They do not need compromises, argues Jan McArthur, the first keynote speaker of the CRADLE International Symposium 2021. Full of outstanding metaphors, aspirational (but not naive) ideas and beautiful examples, her presentation set the scene for the future discussion on assessment for inclusion.

Jan started her presentations to claim that although assessment for inclusion and assessment for social justice share the same ideals for higher education, they are slightly different concepts. However, this does not mean that they should be bargained on nor exclude this synergy between them. Jan’s provocative argument that destructive compromises are sometimes unnecessary or even damaging was confirmed by appealing anecdotes that triggered much discussion in the chat. And you cannot argue hearing that you can’t be a fan of Collingwood and Carlton at the same time. You cannot befriend trust and cheating, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Knowledge. They are different. However, both are important and not necessarily incompatible. This idea of recognising diversity, even about vocabulary and concepts’ interpretations, is the underlying premise of inclusion. Jan is very passionate about the idea that we can be different but helpful for each other.

Jan positions the concept of social justice within critical theory but acknowledges its limitations in terms of race, colonialism and recognising Indigenous forms of knowledge in assessment. Social justice is mutual recognition. Assessment for social justice should be fair for everyone, not only students but also assessors, professional service staff, clients, society. Jan is inclusive even in her approach to the concept of assessment for social justice itself. She doesn’t mandate her interpretation, accepting other perceptions of this concept. She also noticed that the ideas of social justice and inclusion are both very challenging, there is no one ‘right’ way of defining them, and maybe there is no need to do this.

Jan talked about a longitudinal 8-year project partly focused on looking for evidence where assessment for social justice should happen. Is assessment contributing to student development, social and individual well-being? In the interviews with students, they identified that assessment has either orientation to self, discipline, or society with the latter, unfortunately, with the lowest number of responses. To explore this further, Jan refers to a ‘gulf’ between aspiration and realisation. However, Jan denies a binary between assessment for social justice as philosophy and assessment for inclusion as practice. Instead of meeting in a ‘watery space’, Jan suggests that assessment for social justice (philosophical dimension) and assessment for inclusion (practical dimension) come together in a ‘rock pool’ where rock and water form a rich ecosystem where students-starfish can flourish.

Jan highlights that to make a practical change in assessment for inclusion. There is a need for thinking through the concept. Inclusion is more than just identifying marginalised students at university and adjusting. It’s about every student being able to lead a fully creative and meaningful intellectual and social life. This in turn, requires a transformative change, a holistic curriculum change, a revolution. The idea that assessment is not just for learning but also for nurturing full human beings interwove into the whole presentation.  

You can view the full presentation on the CRADLE YouTube channel.

Category list: CRADLE Symposium, News

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