22 March 2023
Deakin University’s Dr Mollie Dollinger, Senior Lecturer, Deakin Learning Futures and CRADLE member, reviews CRADLE’s most recent book launch, ‘Assessment for Inclusion in Higher Education: Promoting Equity and Social Justice in Assessment’ edited by Professor Rola Ajjawi, Dr Joanna Tai, Alfred Deakin Professor David Boud and Dr Trina Jorre de St Jorre.
Our fundamental assumptions about assessment need to change.Professor Rola Ajjawi
And no, Rola wasn’t referring to Chat GPT-4 (at least not directly), but rather, the ever-increasing recognition that higher education assessment is not inclusive to our diverse learners. In fact, at the book launch, with guest speakers on the panel including Alfred Deakin Professor Liz Johnson (Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic Portfolio) and Professor Sally Kift, alongside the editors of the book, what everyone seemed to agree on was the urgent need to reconsider how we design and deliver assessment for equity students.
Yet from that shared consensus it was also clear that there were still many nuances, and practical challenges towards creating inclusive assessment that were unanswered. This included, as phrased by Professor Kift, the greater need to differentiate between equality and inclusion in assessment. As she explained, the application of the same standard to all students is not inclusion, it’s reinforcement of the age-old culture to have students conform to a pre-determined (albeit potentially well intentioned) goal that we as educators have set. Inclusion, rather, is about mitigating and correcting disadvantages in our assessment practices and policies that create barriers which prevent students from learning.
Professor David Boud further built on the discussion by advocating for why everyone, from defenders of social justice to regular first-year biology teachers, should care about inclusive assessment. His reasoning extended beyond the practical considerations of growing requests from students for accommodations, to how bad assessment isn’t just bad, it’s invalid, inequitable, and reflects badly on us. He urged educators to not delay addressing inequities in their assessment practices and recommended a simple individual reflection of “Am I doing right by my students?” as a reasonable, timely place to start.
Dr Joanna Tai also highlighted the importance of diverse voices, as participants and co-researchers, in our quest to better understand inclusive assessment. She stressed that much work in this space has already been done (including in the book itself, of course), but that now we needed to translate these key learnings into our practices.
Yet for me the key takeaway from the event came from Professor Johnson, who responded to a question from Professor Margaret Bearman about the practical steps we can take to begin tackling the topic of inclusive assessment.
Professor Johnson responded that there is no one solution. For example, no one unit chair whose exemplars can address every practical conundrum, nor one great research paper that can evidence every injustice. Rather, it’s only when we operate at multiple levels, in tandem, from educators’ practices, to our institutional culture, and the sector-wide policies that drive us, that we can truly begin to address inequities in the system. In short, it comes down to collaboration and everyone doing their part. Which for me, gave me just the right balance of motivation and comfort to begin reflecting how I can improve my assessment practices for Trimester 2, while accepting that the weight of ‘entrenched exclusion’ does not rest solely on my shoulders alone.
If you missed the Seminar, you can catch up on our YouTube channel.
About the Book
Assessment for Inclusion in Higher Education
Edited by Rola Ajjawi, Joanna Tai, David Boud and Trina Jorre de St Jorre
Published 2022 by Routledge
Don’t forget, CRADLE Seminar Series 2023 #5: Investigating productive feedback practices with CRADLE PhD graduate Dr Bianka Malecka and cotutelle with CRADLE and the University of Copenhagen graduate Dr Lasse X Jensen will be held on Wednesday 10 May at 4pm. Be part of the event by registering now.