In this blog post, we introduce and discuss a recently completed QAA-funded Collaborative Enhancement Project that aimed to explore and understand the relationship(s) between assessment outcomes and inclusive assessment designs for different groups of students during the pandemic-affected academic years 2019-20 and 2020-21. There have been few large-scale empirical studies of this kind conducted and shared with the sector despite changes in assessment practices attracting significant scrutiny and evaluation throughout the pandemic. The project brought together eight institutions from across the University Alliance mission group and comprised a three-phase approach: 1) an analysis of assessment outcomes for specific cohorts across each partner institution capturing the range of design/policy changes alongside those course/programmes displaying the largest percentage reduction in attainment/awarding gaps (for 2019-20) and improved student continuation rates (for 2020-21). 2) interviews with academic staff and focus groups with students from those courses identified by each partner with the latter facilitated by a cadre of student researchers employed by each institution to garner student feedback on the inclusivity of assessment arrangements. 3) staff interview and student focus group data were subjected to a process of thematic analysis to capture key themes and sub-themes at a course/programme level.
This collaborative project work culminated in the production of a series of outputs developed as practical resources with the aim of supporting HE leaders, academics, and students in higher education to review, plan for, and evaluate enhancement-led inclusive assessment policies, initiatives, and interventions. Each resource is framed by an overarching position statement we developed for the project that offers the lens through which we now invite universities and practitioners to critically consider their own assessment policies and practices. We believe inclusive assessment:
‘… is realised through holistic and flexible approaches that recognise value and reflect student diversity, facilitating choice and enabling every individual to demonstrate their achievement with respect to academic/professional standards and empowering them to take ownership of their learning journey. To achieve this, assessment needs to be strategically designed as an embedded element of the curriculum to proactively consider students’ needs and to remove systemic barriers in institutional policies, processes, and practices.’
A set of inclusive assessment attributes was collectively developed to reflect the insights generated through the research work undertaken. These attributes formed the basis for an associated toolkit and suite of case studies as a way of illustrating the types of approaches that were deployed, alongside their impact on student learning and performance. Together these resources provide a framework to assist universities and practitioners in reflecting upon their current institutional policies and practices.
The project has produced a series of practical, evidence-based insights into the impact of alternative assessment arrangements on student outcomes, highlighting areas of good practice and creative implementation. Project findings and outputs are illustrative of how clear, positive outcomes can develop from adversity and how agile thinking and responses to change enabled institutions to put creative solutions and inclusive practices in place within a short period time with the culminative effect of positively impacting student outcomes.
Sam Elkington is Professor of Learning and Teaching at Teeside University, a National Teaching Fellow and Principal Fellow of the HEA