Meeting the challenges - Partnering with students

The discussion above has highlighted a number of challenges which surround assessment in higher education, and how they relate to a critical intercultural pedagogy and relationship development among globally diverse students. Recent studies of assessment policies have found students to be simply subject to ‘the assessment acts of others, to be measured and classified’ (Boud, 2007, p. 17), and even within the Students as Partners movement, examples of partnerships in assessment are relatively rare (Dceley & Boville, 2017). Nonetheless, here we argue that many of the issues raised above might be addressed by engaging students at all stages of the assessment process. The discussion relates back to that made for student engagement in curriculum design in Chapter 4, and when viewed through a critical pedagogy lens, there is strong support for an approach in which ‘students are active participants in the assessment process and in the generation of assessment criteria’ (Keesing-Styles, 2003, p. 13). Such engagement is empowering and drives assessment that is more inclusive because it is ‘more likely to reflect the diversity of students and realities of their lives’ (Ibid.). Adopting an ‘inclusive’ approach in which students are engaged as ‘co-creators’

(Green, 2018; 2019. See also the Window on Practice describing Wendy Green’s SaP project in Chapter 4) in assessment processes can create powerful platforms for relationship development.

Student voice

The movement for culturally responsive assessment is focussed on academic equity across the assessment process. It characterises a student-focussed approach as one in which learners are involved ‘throughout the entire assessment process including the development of learning outcome statements, assessment tool selection/development process, data collection and interpretation, and use of results’ (Montenegro & Jankowski, 2017, p. 10). Such an approach extends the student roles advocated in previous chapters, and is particularly important in dismantling dominant power dynamics, and situating globally diverse learners as equally knowing agents in their educational journeys. As institutions arc educating a more globally diverse student population in increasingly diverse formats and modes of delivery, assessment approaches which do not give voice to those students are unlikely to drive and support their learning.

Bain (2010) reviews a number of authors to develop a conceptual model which supports learning partnerships and provides opportunities to value student voices in their assessments. Partnerships and voice are intended to develop empowered autonomous learners and support students’ abilities to think critically about and take responsibility for their own assessment. Bain’s critical pedagogy approach to assessment is rooted in dialogic interactions (Freire, 1973), in which ‘the roles of teacher and learner are shared; and teacher and, particularly, student voices are validated’, ‘not as unusual features, but as integral practices’ (Op.Cit., pp. 17 &: 20). Bain (Op.Cit., p. 18) sets out the four elements of an embedded model devised by Lundy for schools (Lundy, 2007):

  • • Space: Students must be given the opportunity to express a view
  • • Voice: Students must be facilitated to express their views
  • • Audience: The view must be listened to
  • • Influence: The view must be acted upon, as appropriate

These are characterised as ‘rights’ by Lundy - the right to express a view, and the right to have views given due weight. In previous chapters, we have discussed these variously with regard to the framing of learning environments, the academic curriculum and formal learning activities in our post-national universities, and it is clear that a constructively aligned assessment model would carry these forward into the assessment process.

Bain (Op.Cit.) echoes the concerns of other writers that voice-giving should not be tokenistic, and she suggests that this means ensuring that as well as ‘practical’ voice, assessment must make provision for a student’s epistemological voice and ontological voice. In this last, she borrows from Batchelor’s concern

Case study

Revealing practice - Using assessments to develop intercultural relationships

Daniel Tomozeiu, University of Westminster, UK

The module Intercultural Communication: an introduction attracts 55-60 students, taught in two groups, from our humanities courses as well as international exchange students. When we introduced this assignment for level-4 students, we wanted to embed a critical pedagogical approach which invited the students to make the content of the module relevant for their own life situation. We knew that being in early adulthood, the students would have aspects of their identity which they wanted to explore. At the same time, we wanted to encourage the students to create learning communities and learn to engage in dialogue to explore each other’s perspectives.

During the preparation phase of the module, we create maps of the various cultural communities each student belongs to in order to help them identify a cultural group they would like to explore. Then we reflect on what aspects of the cultural groups they would like to investigate further. This involves pair work, group work as well as one-to-one conversations with the teacher. These activities help them come up with clear ideas for the project plan. Then we look at how to conduct interviews and how to ask non-leading and non-offensive questions, which they get to practice in pairs.

For the assignment, each student selects one cultural group they identify with (for example, being a Catholic, being a speaker of a minority language in China or being gay). Then they identify three aspects they want to explore in relation to the chosen cultural group (for example, for being a Catholic, they could look at gender roles and why there are no female priests in the Catholic church, or at issues around hierarchy in the Catholic church). Finally, they identify two colleagues in their classroom that do not belong to the chosen cultural group (for example, a student investigating being a Catholic might chose a Muslim colleague and an atheist). They then conduct two short semi-structured interviews with these colleagues, and write a three-way analysis of their own views compared with the views of the colleagues, against a theoretical background. The tutor is available to help them analyse the data they have collected.

The assignment has three tangible outputs: the plan for the project, which encourages self-reflection; the transcript of the interviews, which is, for many of them, their first experience of data production and collection; and the analysis, which is both academically rigorous and personal due to the interest of the students. Assessment criteria specifically encourage students to develop relationships in order to understand different perspectives. The assessment criteria for a first-class grade reads as:

The student ‘shows an extremely good capacity to hear and reflect on outsider comments, and to decentre (e.g. questions own culture, learns from outsiders)’.

The way in which the students write about their peers’ views and perspectives demonstrates respect and understanding.

An evolution of the students’ language from more ethnocentric in their initial assignments to more ethnorclative by the end of assignment three can often be observed. The way in which they present their views both in class and out of class often shifts, for example, by including expressions such as ‘this could be seen as’, ‘this could be understood as’, together with the inclusion of qualifiers in their statements, such as ‘as a white middle-class British person it’s not always easy to understand why...’. This indicates the development of culturally sensitive thinking and discourse.

The following are indicative examples of the positive comments collected from participating students over the years:

I have really enjoyed taking this class! Incredibly interesting and I have the opportunity to work w/students from many different countries;

Very eye-opening topics, getting to know different cultures among my colleagues;

I learned how to view cultures differently. I also had the opportunity to know other people from other cultural backgrounds and had the opportunity in this module to know more about their culture, since they were able to express it. It also gave me the opportunity to discover my intercultural competence.

Significantly, I had the opportunity to witness how intercultural relations that formed during this assignment developed into relationships in the subsequent undergraduate years. Because of the assignment requirements, these relationships develop from the cross-cultural explorations with diverse peers. For example, a few years ago one of our Chinese study abroad students chose the topic ‘being an atheist’. One of the students she interviewed was a British-Bcngali Muslim. The assignment reflected how much the Chinese student understood about the role religion played in her colleague’s life. I saw the two students spend time together in the university during that academic year, as the Chinese study abroad student had to return to China at the end of the year. I was not surprised to see her come back two years later for her friend’s graduation.

Although the module has a high number of international students, I have also replicated the assignment in what would appear to be more monocultural settings, for example, during summer schools where most of our students come from the United States. Despite the fact that the students come from the same national culture, when mapping the cultural groups they identify a wide range cultural differences linked to region, socio-economic background, field of study, ethnic heritage, linguistic heritage and abilities, (importance of) religion, urban/suburban/rural lifestyle and so forth.

In addition to building intercultural understanding and in some cases friendships, projects relating to students’ fields of study and discovering what seemingly different fields share have also helped increase understandings of multi- and inter-disciplinarity.

Commentary

Students are engaged in the design of their individual assignments at several stages in this programme. Initially, they identify the cultural group to focus upon and select their informants. Assessment criteria are designed to facilitate relationship development. The reported development of long-term friendships is a rare, and highly encouraging outcome. So is the potential to utilise the approach with what might, at first, appear to be more monocultural groups.

(Batchelor, 2006, p. 91) that no student should need to ‘force himself into the identikit model of a successful student... He can discover his own individual way of being a student’. When students are active agents within the design and conduct of assessments, as suggested below, this requires that they, as well as their tutors, recognise and value diverse cultural knowledge and perspectives.

Engaging globally diverse student voices fully in the assessment process provides significant opportunity for the kinds of outcomes valued in border pedagogies. As they become active agents in this core process of their own education and that of their peers, they are challenged to raise their own voices and listen to those of others. Thus, the process is one ideally suited to providing them with practice in ‘critically interrogating issues of difference through dialogue with self and others’ (Walsh & Townsin, 2015, p. 3).

 
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