The role of the student: Assessment literacy and learner empowerment
“...permit them to learn how to make these processes their own, rather than ones they are subject to…” (Boud 2000, 152)
Students need to be involved as active participants, not just in the process but also in the research, design and evaluation of assessment. The Quality Code for Higher Education has a chapter on assessment which describes the need for clarity, dialogue and developing awareness (QAA 2013b, p15). In the chapter on student engagement, though, it goes further, describing the need for representation, dialogue and partnership “to bring about demonstrable enhancement of the educational experience” (QAA 2013a). The responsibility for this participation is of course mutual, but as with other elements of the university experience, we can frame assessment in ways that support and encourage it. These principles of engagement can be usefully applied to the assessment process to help us meet the challenges described at the start of this guide (see 1.1).
Students as (co-)designers. Choice of task, design of the assessment brief, development of grading criteria, provision of alternative methods for accessibility and even choice of tools and technologies can all be usefully informed by dialogue between tutors and students. This dialogue is valuable partly because it can provide a wide range of perspectives; students may have more or less experience of formal education and assessment processes, and more or less experience of professional practice in the subject area. The CAIeRO course design and review process actively recommends the inclusion of students (and other stakeholders, such as employers and service users) in the course design process.
It is also possible for students have some agency once the assessment parameters are defined; in choosing a topic for an assignment or report, selecting pieces for a portfolio, or identifying requirements and milestones for ill-structured tasks such as problem-based learning.
Students as assessors. Active engagement with grading criteria and processes can equip students with the skills to “monitor, manage and evaluate” their own learning. This leads to empowerment, which as Nicol argues is one of the key goals of higher education, beginning from the first year (Nicol 2009, p4). It can also support the development of lifelong learning by equipping students to see failure as a valid part of the learning process (McArthur 2014). Students can learn to assess through dialogue around assessment practice (see 1.4.4), as well as through self- and peer-assessment activities (see 1.2).
Students as researchers. It seems obvious to say that students are a vital part of the assessment evaluation process, in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense. Data about engagement and achievement can be combined with module evaluations, focus groups and student representation at CAIeROs and on committees, to paint a rich picture of assessment practice and its impact on the learner experience. This feedback can and should be used to inform future assessment design.
As well as being subjects of research in the evaluation of assessment practice, students can also be active researchers. This could be for academic credit (as a third year or Masters level project, for example) or as an extra-curricular activity. Look out for projects like URB@N which can provide support and funding for this kind of initiative.