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Should all assessments be inclusive?

The following post was written by Emilie Poletto-Lawson, an Educational Developer and BILT Fellow. 

I am a BILT fellow based in Academic Staff Development where I work as an Educational Developer. I have been working on the BILT theme of assessment – focusing on inclusive assessment since February 2018. I am undertaking a literature review with a view to making recommendations around inclusive assessment principles that we can embed into our units and programs at the University of Bristol to work alongside our institutional principles on Assessment and Feedback.

From my reading to date the  main take away is that inclusivity is predominantly discussed as a means for supporting students with disabilities. It is very much viewed as a deficit approach to considering assessment, however, I strongly believe it is far more than that, we want to be inclusive of all learners and for inclusive assessment to actually be more inclusive.

As part of my BILT fellow role I recently attended an event at the University of Leicester called “Making IT* Happen: from strategy to action (*Inclusive Teaching)’, led by Pete Quinn and Mike Wray (blog available here). The focus was very much on supporting disabled students in our institutions and ensuring universities are legally compliant with the Equality Act. In preparation for the event, the experts highlighted good practice in the work we do at Bristol, for example we received positive feedback on our institution website regarding inclusivity (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/disability-services/study-support/reasonable-adjustments/) and in particular videos created by Louise Howson from Academic Staff Development (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/staffdevelopment/academic/resources/learning-and-teaching-resources/learning-and-teaching-videos/ ).

Regarding the literature review I am working on, when researching the key words “inclusive” “assessment” in “higher education”, I obtained 9596 results in ERIC and yet, going through the abstracts not that many articles encompass all three parameters. It appears there might be a gap in the literature here despite inclusivity being key to university strategies in the UK and beyond for a number of years now. So far, the key emerging themes from my searching can be seen below.

Inclusive Assessment in Higher Education map created by Emilie Poletto-Lawson
Created with Mindmeister 21.09.2018

In the US literature the Inclusive aspects of articles relates to the idea of an inclusive campus and looks at inclusivity from the selection process (access) to the students completing their degree (success). In the UK, the literature shows there is an acknowledged need for policies, strategies and processes as well as professional development to bring about inclusive practices.

Initial readings suggest there is a rhetoric of inclusivity as a given good, but it is difficult to identify concrete examples, especially when it comes to assessment. The literature review is the first step to articulate a clear definition before focusing on what inclusive assessment means for us at the University of Bristol.

If you are interested in this topic why not read “Against being Inclusive” by Jeffrey Carlson, interim provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Dominican University? I appreciate it might be an odd recommendation since this post advocates that all assessments should be inclusive, but I think this article, published in 2016, does offer food for thought and reinforces the need to clearly define what we mean by “inclusivity” before we move to making recommendations at Bristol.

News

Tensions with Programme-Level Assessment

The following post was written by Helen Heath, a reader in Physics and BILT Fellow. 

I am a reader in the School of Physics at Bristol and currently 1st year coordinator and head of the newly formed Physics Education Group (PEG), which is a group for the pathway 3 staff within the School of Physics. I’ve been a BILT fellow since September 2017 with a focus on programme level assessment and this has been renewed for the next academic year.

While looking into programme level assessment I have felt that there are significant tensions. The move to more formative and less summative assessment should help student development but fewer summative assessments inevitably means that these assessments are higher stakes. Devising good innovative assessment methods that are targeted at testing the learning outcomes is desirable but too many different types of assessment can be confusing to students.

As part of the University move towards programme level assessment several Schools took part in assessment labs and have been working on moving their assessment to a more programme level approach. I am in the process of interviewing those involved with these pilot projects. I would like to understand the challenges they have faced in the programme design and the institutional changes, e.g. to regulations, that need to be made to enable the implementation of the revised assessment schemes they have proposed. I am also interested in how the perceptions of what programme level assessment is vary across the University.

Although the content of courses varies, the principles of good assessment design should be applicable to all programmes however it seems clear to me, from the first interviews, that there are structural differences between programmes that can hinder or help the adoption this approach. Joint honours programmes, for example, can pose a challenge. The programme level approach can offer the chance of an assessment which brings together the strands in these types of programmes, but this then requires clarity in the management of a joint assessment. Schools that have very many different joint honours programmes need to avoid a confusing range of different assessments.

Schools piloting programme level assessment are also in very different points in their curriculum review cycle. Adopting a programme level approach where a review is underway anyway is much more natural than making large changes to assessment when results of a previous review are still working their way through programmes.

As a second strand of my work I have been thinking about what programme level assessment might look like in my own School. We have joint programmes with Schools in our own Faculty and outside as well as several “Physics with” programmes but we have a well-defined Core in all programmes which could be assessed at year level. The “straw person” proposal for a way forward is submitted to our next Teaching Committee. Hopefully it promotes a lively discussion.