What should inclusive assessment be? Reflections from a panel discussion

On Monday 15 April I had the privilege to be part of a panel discussing inclusive assessment at an event hosted by Deakin University’s Diversity & Inclusion Community of Practice. The group exists to discuss, share and further our endeavours to ensure that education at Deakin is inclusive, taking into account the diverse range of students who study at the university. The panel was chaired by Merrin Mccracken from Diversity & Inclusion, with contributions from Tegan Whitten (current student and DUSA Vice-President), Linda Tivendale (SEBE), Friederika Kaider (Arts & Ed Pod DLF), Dr Sharon Pittaway (Business & Law), Susie Macfarlane HealthPod DLF) and myself – so my reflections here have been particularly informed and influenced by all of these people.

One thing that resonated with broader assessment conversations was the requirement for assessment to be meaningful. That is, whatever it is that is required of students, assessment allows them to demonstrate their achievement of learning objectives in an area of study rather than just being ‘busy work’ for the sake of it. Many of the panellists outlined their own examples of how this could be achieved in a variety of ways. Staff workload did change as the ways of assessing changed to address the underlying competencies and objectives, but it didn’t seem to be a zero-sum game. Interestingly, some of the assessment changes weren’t even primarily made to be inclusive, but the improved assessment design (incorporating formative feedback, chunked tasks, and a variety of assessment formats) had the effect of being more inclusive.

Photograph of Dr Joanna Tai speaking from a lecternMy contribution was mainly based on a chapter (co-authored by Margaret Bearman and Phillip Dawson) in our forthcoming CRADLE book on assessing in a digital world. In particular, I spoke about the potential for technology in assessment to be [un]inclusive, and potential ways we can combat this. In a nutshell, technology in assessment is unlikely to be inherently inclusive, as we tend to replicate what we already do rather than tear down previous structures. We also assume that both students and staff can use the technology. Lastly, the artefacts of digital assessment might stick around for a long time (e.g. blog posts, wikis, even essays) – who has control of these things, and might students be unfairly portrayed in these artefacts? Suggestions for these particular problems focused around continuing community and stakeholder engagement, ensuring training and upskilling is readily available, and revisiting institutional policy.

More broadly, the discussion highlighted that there isn’t a single good solution to assessment where there is student diversity. What we might in fact need, to ensure that assessment is more inclusive, is the opportunity for multiple assessment pathways. Disabilities and health conditions, and even life more generally, aren’t necessarily stable and constant, so what works for a student at one point might be completely inappropriate at another. Choice in assessment formats might be extremely helpful to afford students the best opportunity to demonstrate achievement. There are also many students who don’t formally register with the Disability Resource Centre and might negotiate their assessment requirements individually, without the assistance of expert staff. All of this adds up to the need for inclusive assessment to be not a special case but something that we all do, because there is no excuse for educators to perpetuate irrelevant barriers within assessment and learning. What this might look like probably varies greatly depending on context, learners, and educators. We are planning to continue our work on inclusive assessment in several ways, so keep an eye out for updates. Thanks also to Mary Dracup for organising the session!

For more information and resources on inclusive education, check out the Inclusive Curriculum and Capacity Building site [Deakin login required]. You can also check out a recording of the panel, and view the presenters’ slides on the site, under the ‘Inclusive assessment panel and discussion’ section of past events – find it here.

Category list: News, Reflections, Research

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