Can students ever really be partners in assessment?

Ben Ryan, a 3rd year BESS student at Trinity College and member of the ‘Enhancing Digital Teaching & Learning’ (EDTL) project with the IUA, discusses key points in relation to students as partners in assessment.

Students are more than capable of being partners in assessment. We have so much experience of different assessment types, and what has or hasn’t worked for us in the past. We know what kind of assessments we find interesting and challenging. Involving students in the assessment process can help us be more engaged in the module and get us to develop key skills like communication, teamwork and compromise.

Getting students involved in the assessment process gives us agency and independence and lets us take control of our learning. When we’re given the opportunity to influence aspects of a module’s assessments, I’ve found that myself and other students were much more engaged with that module and generally had a better understanding of what was being required of us in the assessments. I believe students can be partners in designing assessments as we know what assessments we prefer, and which are more beneficial to our learning – and which ones aren’t worth putting as much effort into.

Getting students involved could be as simple as running polls or having discussions in class or on boards to agree the type of assessment (individual versus group project, essay versus report) and how teams and groups are selected. I personally think students should be involved in assessments at every step of the way from creation onwards. I think it leads to better engagement with lecture and module content module and can give students a better understanding of the assessment process. We can clearly tell when an assessment is just recycled year in year out and we lose interest in the assessment and the module content as a result. We know this isn’t always possible – particularly with very large classes – but assessments should at least match the current version of a module!

Students-as-Partners (‘SaP’) models aren’t always used well. Sometimes it can go too far by giving students too much freedom to decide their assessment. Students can be easily overwhelmed by a lack of guidance and support. In one case, I had to write an essay on any topic relating to one of my modules. I thought this was a poor use of the SaP model: it was really broad and I found myself being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start.

Without setting clear boundaries for the length of time devoted to discussion around assessment, co-creation conversations can drag on and take away from time spent engaging with content in class. Before having these discussions with students, staff should clearly outline how long will be spent discussing assessments and what they hope to achieve from the conversation. I also think staff need to be sure that discussion includes all student voices, not just the most vocal. Any discussion on assessment co-creation should probably include a channel for students to express their views anonymously or privately (google form, private email to lecturer). Sometimes it is better to just try out the process of assessment co-creation. You will very quickly see what works and what doesn’t make sense for you – and also what does and doesn’t make sense for your students.

If staff are considering putting a SaP model into their assessments, my main advice would be to just go for it. What’s stopping you from using SaP in your assessment approaches? Why?

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