Re-imagining assessments – beyond assessment design

Re-imagining assessments isn’t all about assessment design. Whether you’re an educational designer, educator, unit coordinator, or teaching and learning leader, there are many ways you can help to make exams more inclusive.

Exams can act as barriers to success for many students. Though they’ve traditionally been seen as an efficient and ‘fair’ way to measure student learning, in practice many students require adjustments to the format and timing of exams in an effort to make things more equitable. Whether exams are conducted in person or administered remotely, they can require students to make substantial logistical efforts: students might encounter difficulties with finding a quiet space, internet access, commuting, work or caring commitments, access to technology – or even a combination of these factors.

For these reasons, exams should be used as sparingly as possible and, where used, need to be carefully designed to ensure they are inclusive. The same goes for other types of assessment, from essays and group work to pracs and portfolios – no matter the task, it’s important that inclusive assessment design principles are incorporated. We’ve created a framework to assist educators and unit chairs in re-imagining their assessments from a design perspective. However, assessment design isn’t the only way to re-imagine assessment. University-wide considerations can substantially contribute to improving inclusion in assessment.

Looking beyond assessment design, here are five key ideas to help make assessments more equitable and inclusive for all students:

  • Create a culture of inclusion
    Inclusive assessment is a process involving many stakeholders, not just the academic staff who design assessments. Administrative staff, student appeals staff, and study skills support staff can all contribute to assessment. Incorporating inclusion and diversity information into orientation materials, compliance training, and professional development are a few ways to ensure all staff members are engaged with inclusive principles.
  • Support the re-imagining of exams
    Exams are both common and a frequent barrier to equitable treatment, so an institutional approach may help develop more inclusive approaches. Consider raising awareness about how exams can have significant equity impacts, and that it’s a myth that exams prevent cheating (they actually might be particularly prone to it!).
  • Improve the clarity of assessment processes
    Students commonly do not know how to go about seeking extensions or accommodations, especially at the start of their degree, and this can lead to poor results or failed units. Students report that it’s difficult to find information on these process and what to do next. Ways to improve student understanding could include highlighting the availability and function of the access centre in course materials and classes, and offering a plain language version of policy documents to help both students and staff understand procedures and key requirements.
  • Streamline access procedures
    We can improve efficiency by reducing the substantial administrative effort involved in communicating and distributing access requirements. This helps both staff and students. Ideas to streamline accessibility might include automating extension approvals within certain limits (e.g. 3-5 days), and ensuring access plan information is centrally available to help staff understand potential requirements across all students within a class.
  • Promote evaluation with respect to inclusive assessment
    Hearing students’ everyday experiences with assessment can help teachers take the next step in re-imagining their assessments. Opportunities to raise awareness about inclusive assessment can be built in through routine quality assurance processes, allowing students the chance to provide meaningful suggestions for assessment improvements. This might include modifying unit evaluation surveys to allow qualitative feedback on assessment tasks, or running unit-specific discussions with students to identify potential assessment improvements.

If you’d like to know more about how universities can look beyond assessment design to promote inclusive assessments and re-imagine exams, check out our Five ways to develop inclusive assessment in higher education, and visit our Resources page for more great ideas.

Feature image: Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

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