A guide for designing inclusive assessments: Removing, Reducing and Rethinking barriers to assessment
Why inclusive assessment?
Inclusive assessment provides equal opportunities for all students to demonstrate their learning. By designing assessments that are inclusive, we also reduce the need for individual adjustments by building in choice and flexibility at the point of design. However, there is often a gap between inclusive assessment policy and how to implement this practically. This resource seeks to bridge this gap by using the 3Rs to suggest possible strategies to Remove, Reduce and Rethink barriers to some of the most common forms of assessment (Presentations, Group Work, Practical Assessments and Lab, Exams and Written Assessments). In order to be most impactful, you can utilise the 3Rs in a way that is relevant and applicable to your specific subject discipline and student cohort.
As an example, if assessing via presentations, at the point of design:
- Remove helps us to consider if presenting is required in order to meet the learning outcomes or whether this could be replaced with more flexible forms of assessments such as a poster, blog etc.
- If 'presenting' is necessary, then we can consider how potential barriers can be mitigated (Reduce) such as building in choice in terms of how the students can present; e.g. presenting to a smaller group.
- We might also consider how students could be supported to overcome any barriers or challenges they may face (Rethink) e.g. can the students build up to the assessment point gradually, enabling them to practice and consolidate their skills? Could the students be supported to develop strategies to overcome any challenges they may face?
At the point of course/unit design and delivery consider the following in order to Remove, Reduce and/or Rethink potential barriers to assessment via presentations:
- Where possible, at the point of design, if presenting is not part of the unit learning outcomes, consider whether students could be provided with an alternative form of assessment.
- Offer the opportunity to present in a smaller space or to a smaller audience to build confidence.
- Consider how the presentation needs to be delivered and whether students could pre-record presentations rather than present live. Could students present remotely or in a pair to reduce pressure on them individually?
- Facilitate the student to rethink how they might tackle the hurdle of presenting and develop strategies to overcome this. We often think of presenting as one challenge when in reality it often consists of lots of smaller (but potentially significant) barriers. Encourage students to break down and identify the aspects of presenting they find most challenging; e.g. social anxiety, fear of forgetting what they need to say, imposter syndrome etc. This will help students to then identify more focused strategies to manage the barriers they are facing.
- Presentation anxiety is very common amongst students. It can also be helpful to normalise that presentation anxiety is common and it does not necessarily undermine a student's ability to present well.
- If students struggle with extreme nerves associated with presenting, they can practise building their confidence by becoming accustomed to using their voice in public. Encourage them to build this skill gradually over time by contributing in class/to small group discussions so they can work up to their presentation.
At the point of course/unit design and delivery consider the following in order to Remove, Reduce and/or Rethink potential barriers to assessment via group work:
- Where possible and at the point of design, provide alternative types of assessment for students who may find aspects of group work challenging. For example, provide the option of submitting individual work in lieu of group-based activities.
- Establish a system to address issues that arise in group work, such as a way to contact the lecturer privately, or to raise common queries with peers (such as an online forum for the cohort) to share experiences.
- Provide options to enable group members to work on individual aspects of group work.
- Break down group assessment into specific activities with deadlines to reduce ambiguity and unequal contribution.
- Groups often aspire to an idealised form of teamworking and get frustrated when this goes awry. Encouraging students to put in place a 'Plan B' can help them to consider how they will move forwards if things don't go to plan.
- Getting students to break down tasks in a way that is manageable, realistic and sustainable can also better equip students to work effectively in teams. Encourage them to also review progress as a team so they can see distance travelled.
- Encourage students to produce a contract which is realistic and supports the members of the group to achieve its aims. Whilst a contract can encourage greater fairness, building in a degree of flexibility will help students to set realistic goals and expectations.
Practical assessments and labs
At the point of course/unit design and delivery consider the following in order to Remove, Reduce and/or Rethink potential barriers to assessment via practical assessments and labs:
- Remove ambiguity - add clarity and opportunities for students to check their knowledge - e.g. provide lab manuals and instructions for lab/practical sessions in advance of practicals.
- Reduce anxiety regarding practical sessions and related assessments - e.g. provide manuals and instructions in a variety of formats to suit different learning styles (bullet point written instructions, short demonstration videos). Pre-lab sessions can also provide valuable opportunities for students to check their understanding and awareness of the task ahead and enables the student to check away from the live session which may be more difficult due to time restraints and limited demonstrator availability.
- Reduce overwhelming lab environment - an overwhelming environment can often lead to attendance difficulties for many students. Can some students arrive an agreed few minutes early to settle prior to the majority of the class arriving at once?
- Lab demonstrator availability - are more lab demonstrators available? Can demonstrators be allocated/dedicated to certain groups/pairings, can demonstrators be available before/after labs to enable students to seek clarity prior to/after sessions?
- Lab access - can labs practically be open for extra sessions/different hours to enable students who maybe struggle to complete the work in the set time finish work?
- Lab partners - for example - encourage and facilitate group/pair work, it may be helpful to provide opportunities for pairs to meet in advance of lab sessions (pre-labs) to ensure both have an understanding of task, can familiarise with activity out of time pressured lab session.
At the point of course/unit design and delivery consider the following in order to Remove, Reduce and/or Rethink potential barriers to assessment via exams:
- When reviewing or planning course-wide design consider whether exams are the best form of assessment linked to the learning outcomes. Also consider what type of exam format best aligns with the learning outcomes (e.g. closed or open book, in class tests, multiple choice). Consider variety of assessment methods so that students build skills in different areas.
- Reduce anxiety by offering a trial run or mock-exam for students to familiarise themselves with the platform. In the case of in-person exams, outline the structure in as much detail as possible.
- Consider Q&A session after trial runs or mock exams to allow for clarification. Record and make accessible for students to revisit.
- For 24 or 48 hour exams, clearly outline expected duration of the exam to prevent misuse of time management.
- Some students will find the logistics surrounding exams more challenging than the exam itself. Provide information regarding where, when and how (e.g. using specific software, having to upload answers) the exam will take place in advance so that students can prepare for this and anticipate any challenges they may face.
- In the case of in-person exams, when and where possible, consider the impact the exam environment may have on student performance (size of room, temperature, noise levels, etc.) and reduce as many barriers as possible.
- Whilst it is not always possible to create the ideal assessment environment for all students, encourage students to make small changes in terms of how they might adapt their environment. e.g. using assistive software, altering text size and colour background.
At the point of course/unit design and delivery consider the following in order to Remove, Reduce and/or Rethink potential barriers to assessment via written assessments:
- Where possible build in opportunities for students to encounter, practise and master written assessments on a number of occasions at the course level so that students can learn from feedback and develop their confidence and skills over a period of time.
- Provide details of written assessment in advance. This might provide a helpful sense of context as students are able to relate ideas presented in practical or teaching sessions with forthcoming assessments.
- To reduce individual emails and consolidate similar queries, create an online forum or a session for students to ask specific questions related to the assignment or exam. Make this accessible for students to revisit later. Students will also benefit from knowing what other students have asked.
- Carry out a 'sense check' by sharing assignment briefs with a colleague to ensure instructions are clear and accessible.
- For some activities or when students are new to the course, consider breaking down briefs (or encourage students to do this) into specific, smaller deadlines tasks/subheadings/activities to make it easier to learn the skill of managing deadlines.
Other considerations for assessment
In addition to the suggestions above, you may have contact with students who would benefit from further individualised adjustments or professional support in relation to their disability, wellbeing or mental health management.
Students can access support through the Wellbeing, Mental Health and Therapeutic Services within Student Support and Safeguarding. Staff should direct students to contact the Wellbeing team if the wellbeing and welfare of a student is being impacted. For students wishing to explore practical support for long-term conditions, staff should encourage contact with the Disability Service so that individualised adjustments can be discussed.
Blog Post produced by the CLT Student Champions: Mimi Mihailescu, Harshita Gupta & Kenna Skoric. If you have any questions please contact Abby Osborne, Assessment & Feedback Development Lead.