Assessment for Inclusion: a tale of two papers

In this post we hear from CRADLE’s Professor Margaret Bearman who discusses two published papers on a similar topic – repositioning of assessment for inclusion – and highlights the issues of researchers and collaborators publishing on the same topic within close timeframes.

Quote: " it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way..." Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

In September 2021, two rather different papers with two rather similar titles were submitted to the higher education literature, and then subsequently published:

What these papers share is a repositioning of assessment for inclusion – but they do so in very different ways.

Juuso Nieminen Profile PictureNieminen (online first 2021) writes: “Assessment for Inclusion (AfI) refers to the purpose of assessment as fostering radical inclusion by acknowledging marginalised students (e.g. disabled students) as fully included and agentic members of higher education communities. AfI draws reflexively on both individual accommodations and inclusive assessment design. AfI is a critical and resistive approach to assessment: it recognises the prevalent socio-cultural,-historical and-political positioning of marginalised students in assessment and, if needed, explicitly disrupts such positioning by promoting student agency. AfI builds on a collective understanding of agency: it cannot be conducted for students but always with them.”

Tai et al (online first 2022) write: “Drawing on the general philosophy of assessment for social justice, and noting the importance of outcomes, we suggest ‘assessment for inclusion’ captures the spirit and intention that a diverse range of students and their strengths and capabilities should be accounted for, when designing assessment of and for learning, towards the aim of accounting for and promoting diversity in society. In introducing this new term, we hope to better negotiate praxis: that is, joining together theory and practice, to act as a lever to achieve change in assessment but also through assessment. The overall aim is still to achieve assessment for social justice through focusing on assessment design, since design needs to consider not only the immediate task but the wider course and institutional context (Dawson et al., 2013).

So how did this come about? While the Nieminen paper was clearly published first, the close timeframes might have people asking questions. Indeed when Juuso and I had a quick chat about this – (face to face at the EARLI SIG 1 & SIG4 joint conference in Cadiz!)  –  he expressed disquiet. And I too felt discomforted.

This blog post is a reflexive consideration both of the situation and also of the sticky territory that we often find ourselves in as collaborative researchers who discuss and share and generate together. I am third named author on the Tai et al paper and Jo (Tai), Rola (Ajjawi) and Dave (Boud) have recently all published with Juuso (Nieminen). We all attended a CRADLE virtual symposium on inclusive assessment, the month after both of these papers were submitted. Some of us saw drafts of each others’ work before it was published. And, it seems that everything was kosher. Our thinking was independent, our publication routes independent, and yet, and yet ….

I wanted to raise in this blog post my own disquiet – but also other, more positive emotions, possibly even elation. Because there – out in the literature are two papers on how assessment can be more inclusive and can thereby promote a more just society at a structural and individual level. This recognises the power of assessment for both individuals and communities.

But the disquiet. The titles are closely parallel. Both circulate around the idea of rethinking assessment to promote inclusion. We are seen as authors and collaborators. Does it look like we have stolen each others’ work? It turns out we had some awareness of each others’ papers beforehand. How should we have dealt with it?Does it look like we have stolen each others’ work?Should we, the later paper, have referenced the prior publication? In hindsight, I would say, yes, of course – and possibly offered another title. But if you look at the acceptance dates, you’ll see it was a little complicated – both accepted within 1-2 days of each other. We really weren’t thinking of the conflict in the proofs.

Should we have discussed in these possible conflicts openly, possibly at the symposium? I’m wondering if we did, I feel like we both must have known that these papers were going into submission. But there was nothing explicit – no, where are we heading with this? And it’s sometimes tricky at a virtual event, where there is no corridor or coffee break, to find the right time for the conversation. It’s also tricky to have a conversation about your work when it’s under review and you don’t know how radically your paper will be reworked. And maybe we all want to be a bit protective of our patch? Certainly, I’ve had many indignant moments where I have felt my ideas have been repurposed by others – and while this indignation is often firmly punctured by realising that I was jumping to conclusions, in some cases, there is a lingering sense of – but that was my idea!

So this blog as a response, not quite a public dialogue, but a public piece of intellectual candour, or streaking if you will. It’s candour because I don’t have answers. I continue to grapple with my disquiet in this and other situations. It feels to me as if somehow we sit in the intersections of academic collaboration and competition and that mostly this can be productive but sometimes, and perhaps inevitably, we will run into situations where, for example, two papers can be published with almost exactly the same title.

Contact Margaret: [email protected]

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