Student Voice

Co-designing assessments with students

Universities have been adopting ‘student voice’ mechanisms as a means of enhancing their programmes for some time. In my experience, this has been moderately successful, used to move assessment dates to avoid bunching, or reducing multi-part assessments to singular and vice versa. However, I wouldn’t argue that moving a hand-in date alone is co-designing an assessment. So, what would co-designing assessment entail? Universities being universities will have to uphold their academic standards, so typically the intended learning outcomes (ILOs) and broad assessment criteria are already set. Co-designing assessments would offer students a seat at the table when setting the particulars of the assessment method, and number of assessments for a module, and mapping to that to the programme. 

We have recently passed the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating, so it would be ludicrous not to acknowledge the risk that contract cheating plays in the contemporary higher education sector; and how this may effect a students’ place co-designing assessments. At its most basic, contract cheating is the “outsourcing of student work to third parties”. Due to its nature, it is far easier for this to occur with coursework-based assignments, rather than invigilated exams. In an attempt to combat contract cheating, some universities have initiatives, that require programmes to include a certain number of examinations per academic year. However, examinations are not particularly popular with students, the same could be said about group projects. Nevertheless, these are necessary evils in the assessment world that potentially would not occur if students were designing the assessments themselves.  

On the flip side, having a student co-design an assessment would help ensure that the assessment is relevant. According to Graham Gibbs, assessment should be designed so that students can tackle the learning in a productive manner and directs students to spend their time and effort across the key aspects of the module. I also think most importantly assessment should allow students to develop skills relevant to their chosen discipline. By having a student involved with the setting of the assessment, we can adapt the assessment to meet these needs, and preferences of the students towards more relevant and authentic assessment tasks.  

A ‘backward design’ project was trailed at Bournemouth University in 2017 where students and academics were given a number of different module specifications, containing the ILOs, and were asked to think creatively about whether there could be a better way that further engages students in their learning. This pilot showed that the collaborative method to assessment design was positive for both parties. They also discovered that (although engaged) the student members originally had little knowledge of the curriculum design undertaken, however soon gathered an understanding and were able to effectively contribute.  

The overall implications of letting students solely design their own assessments could be laughable; but co-designing in a collegiate environment could lead to re-thinking the ‘tried and tested’ in favour of more innovative, relevant, and authentic assessments. 

Jonny Barnes BILT Student Fellow 20/21 working on the projects – Creating online communities – Assessment and feedback – Students as researchers -Decolonisation. 

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