The current discourse within Higher Education is strongly anchored in and based upon the students as partners in learning. And yet, this rarely includes assessments, which are used to determine students’ specific achievements and to identify whether and in how far learning outcomes and objectives have been achieved. If, however, students are to take responsibility for their learning, then why are they not also in charge of their assessments?
Quote from chapter on Assessments: letting students decide in Student Empowerment in Higher Education: Reflecting on Teaching Practice and Learner Engagement.
In the following case study Dr Nicole Brown, Associate Professor and Head of Research Ethics and Integrity at IOE, talks about how assessment optionality works on her module BASC0039: Disability, Chronic Illness and Neurodivergence in Contemporary Society.
It expands on some of the ideas explored in her recent MicroCPD video Assessments: letting students choose.
|The UCL Micro Continuing Professional Development (MicroCPD) series are a set of 90 second videos for teaching staff and colleagues that support students’ learning. The initial videos have focused on assessment and cover areas including closing the feedback loop; planning effective assessment; assessment in team projects and improving student writing skills.|
The module BASC0039: Disability, Chronic Illness and Neurodivergence in Contemporary Society is an interdisciplinary module which looks at disability chronic illness from a wide range of disciplinary contexts including a medical and legal point of view. Students are taught about auto-ethnicity as part of the course as it is important that we recognize our own positions within our society when approaching the matter of disability. Many of the students on the course have some experience of chronic illness, either personally or through family members. With this in mind it felt inappropriate and unfair to demand a particular form of assessment. For the assessment students can choose between a written submission or a recorded presentation as a critical commentary, this is combined with an artefact that can take any form. The submission is marked using a rubric (Level 5 Artefact and critical commentary assessment criteria and Level 6 Artefact and critical commentary assessment criteria). Student response to the optionality has been positive. The approach also has many benefits in regard to academic integrity, in particular considering current challenges to essay writing from Artificial Intelligence (AI). As Nicole explains: “making an assessment meaningful actually prevents you from having some of the plagiarism and academic misconduct issues that other modules encounter.”
Nicole’s tips for considering optionality:
- Employing optionality and making assessments meaningful leads to students wanting to complete the assessment task
- It works particularly well when there are many different perspectives on the assessment topic
- Remember that optionality supports accessibility and academic integrity.
- Think about taking it further – what about rolling dates and ungrading?
- Brown, N., Morea-Ghergu, D. & Onwuka, N. (2020). Assessments: letting students decide. In: Mawani, S., & Mukadam, A. (eds). Student Empowerment in Higher Education: Reflecting on Teaching Practice and Learner Engagement. Vol. 2. Berlin: Logos Verlag. 487-498.