The underperformance of students on an assessment is often labeled as due to their in-capabilities, inadequate study skills or unfavourable background characteristics. However, the question raised in this module is to consider whether the assignment in itself might be inequitable and therefore excluding.
In designing online assessments, teachers should look beyond fixed, limited categories (e.g.disabilities,social-cultural-economic background) and, instead, account for the diversity of learners across a wider range of individual differences. Accordingly, in this module we will explore how to design assessments for inclusive online environments to ensure that diverse students have equitable opportunities to learn from the assessment and be equitably judged on their full capacities
The main function of assessment is often considered to be the mere testing and judgment of the student’s learning. Put differently, assessments’ objectives are usually summatively assessing and accrediting whether externally set learning objectives have been achieved (Dochy et al., 2020). However, such a conception can be far away from promoting inclusiveness if adopted in online education settings and might lead to assessments that are neither fair nor effective in enabling a diversity of learners to reach their full potential and progress.
Influenced by declarations on the rights of people with disabilities, it gradually came an emphasis on inclusion in higher education. However, perhaps do to this, the interventions to promote inclusion in higher education assessment have largely focused on students with disabilities (Matheson & Sutcliffe, 2017; O’Neill, 2017), and on contexts where the language of instruction might emerge as an additional barrier for international students (Hurst & Mona, 2017; Kaur et al., 2017). Most of these interventions have derived on recommendations to use reasonable facilities, rather than questioning the central tenets of the assessment.
In their article Assessment for inclusion: rethinking contemporary strategies in assessment design, Tai et al. (2022) have given evidence that contemporary approaches to assessment – despite not having been originally developed for reasons of inclusion – can readily be harnessed to better serve the inclusion agenda in its widest sense.
There are two distinct contemporary approaches that can help educators to design inclusive online assessments very well: 1) the assessment for learning; and 2) the assessment as learning. Compared to the more traditional view of the assignment as an assessment of learning, which is mainly theory-based and is conceived as an end-of-learning and a summative test, these two more recent approaches suggest a positive shift towards a student-centric, learning orientation. As put by Dochy & McDowell (1997), whereas in the past, assessment was seen only as a means to measure and thus to certification, there is now a realisation that the potential benefits of assessing are much wider and impinge on all stages of the learning process.
In an assessment for learning, the agency of the learner is central. Assessment is part of the learning process, so it cannot be separated from it (Birenbaum, 1996; Assessment Reform Group,2002; James, 2006). In sync with this, the assessment aims to inform the learner about their progress within their learning journey, on real time,based on competency based situations, and using continuous feedback from the teacher or peers. In other words, assessment becomes formative and a key element in the learning process. Frequent progress monitoring is an example of assessment for learning. Notably, this translates into a feedback culture, across all stages of the learning process.
The assessment as learning builds on the assessment for learning view. Because it considers assessment as formative, it aims students learn, but it also involves summative assessment and the student’s active engagement in the learning process and in the assessment itself. Therefore, student’s activity, involvement and motivation are the key elements of this approach.
Assessment as learning is contextualised and relevant. Challenge-based and problem-based teaching modes create a good foundation for online assessment as learning. In working on real-life problems or challenges, e-learners are assessed on their ongoing performance as well as on their final results or performance (e.g. a final version of a project) and their agency and personal reflections.
Student agency can have a central role in online assessments conceived as e-learning tools. As suggested by Hattie (2008), the use of self-reported expectations has a dominant impact on learning success by matching expectations through peer- and self-assessment and by coaching students to monitor their progress towards their own expectations (and to exceed these expectations).
Online peer assessment can also be a useful technique when adopting an assessment as a learning approach. According to Bates (2019), it offers three main advantages: 1) it benefits learning as it requires to think critically about and comment on peers’s work and it leads to discover other students’ perspectives and ideas, thus widening and deepening one’s own understanding; 2) it enables learner formative assessment and feedback to be scaled up; and 3) it develops a core skill in evaluation which will be critical when working in a digital and diverse society.
In online self-assessment, students look at their own learning. Here, the use of an e-portfolio can be a powerful tool – not only as an end product but also as a tool for reflection, knowledge management, learning activities and practice, and to contribute to group work and projects. An e-portfolio enables a concrete dialogue between teacher, peers and experts about the learning process and the intended and achieved learning outcomes.
Basically, by building an online assessment as a learning approach we offer online students an optimal integration of learning and evaluation since it lets us monitor, follow up and support the e-learner in their progress. Because learning is conceived as contextual as well as social, assessment is a matter of concern for every member of the online learning community (the learner, teachers, peers, experts and relevant others). This implies learning in diversity and multiperspective, which supports an inclusive and equitable e-learning and assessment climate.