Five practical strategies for fostering learning and wellbeing in student assessment

Recently, we’ve heard that students and course instructors are reporting feeling overwhelmed. Assessment is often at the centre of these conversations. Jones et al. (2021) acknowledge that assessment practices impact both educator’s and student’s perceptions of their wellbeing. They highlight some common tensions related to challenge, format, weighting, flexibility, and group work. I anticipate more research to surface on assessment practices for wellbeing in higher education, as we continue to learn and heal from our experiences during the global pandemic.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed a handful of strategies that continue to surface as potential ways to promote wellbeing in student assessment. Many of these strategies align with and build upon research from Ross (2021) on assessment practices using a lens of ethics-of-care. I’ve summarized five approaches to promote wellbeing in student assessment below:

  1. Wherever possible, focus on implementing practices that align with principles for Universal Design for Learning into student assessment practices (CAST, n.d.). UDL principles support multiple means of engagement, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of representation (Coffman & Draper; 2022; La et al., 2018). Strategies may include intentionally connecting assessments with student interests, supporting self-assessment/reflection, and providing flexibility, choice and a variety of forms of assessment throughout the semester (CAST, n.d.; La et al., 2018).
  2. Provide some flexibility to adjust submission timelines throughout the semester. One example is to provide late banks where students have a set amount of time (e.g., 48-72 hours) to use and distribute without penalty when they are struggling to meet assignment deadlines throughout the semester (Schroeder et al., 2019).
  3. Let students bring a page of self-generated notes or a flashcard into an exam. This strategy may help reduce stress and anxiety, and promote metacognition as students strategically consider what they already know and where their growing edges are in terms of the course material (Settlage & Wollscheid, 2019).
  4. Wherever possible, streamline and make transparent grading processes. For example, work with students as partners to co-develop the assignment grading criteria (Meer and Chapman, 2014), and have them submit a self-assessment of their work based on these criteria (Yan & Carless, 2022). What are they most proud of? What came most easily to them in completing this assignment? Where did they struggle most? What would they most like to improve upon? What 1-2 areas do they most want to receive feedback on? Use this self-assessment to help streamline where and how you provide feedback when grading.
  5. For in-class presentations, have students present to small groups, rather than to the entire class. Many students experience fear when presenting publicly – practice, preparation and support can help to alleviate some of this fear (Grieve et al., 2021). Providing opportunities for students to practice and present their work to small groups of peers may help reduce anxiety, streamline the use of class time, and foster peer learning and development. For these presentations, consider focussing the grading process on student’s reflections of the growth and development of their presentation skills, and on communication skills such as active listening, and providing/responding to peer feedback. You may even consider doing this multiple times throughout the semester so that students have more than one opportunity to practice their presentation, communication, and feedback skills.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. There are many creative ways to implement assessment practices that further foster wellbeing for students and educators. I’d love to hear your ideas, as I predict this will be a growing topic of discussion in higher education over the coming years.

References

CAST (n.d.) UDL ON CAMPUS · Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education: UDL and Assessment. http://udloncampus.cast.org/page/assessment_udl

Coffman, S., & Draper, C. (2022). Universal design for learning in higher education: A concept analysis. Teaching and Learning in Nursing17(1), 36-41.

Daniel M. Settlage & Jim R. Wollscheid (2019). An analysis of the effect of student prepared notecards on exam performance. College Teaching, 67:1, 15-22, DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2018.1514485

Grieve, R., Woodley, J., Hunt, S. E., & McKay, A. (2021). Student fears of oral presentations and public speaking in higher education: a qualitative survey. Journal of Further and Higher Education45(9), 1281-1293.

Jones, E., Priestley, M., Brewster, L., Wilbraham, S. J., Hughes, G., & Spanner, L. (2021). Student wellbeing and assessment in higher education: the balancing act. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education46(3), 438-450.

La, H., Dyjur, P., & Bair, H. (2018). Universal design for learning in higher education. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. Calgary: University of Calgary. https://taylorinstitute.ucalgary.ca/resources/universal-design-learning-higher-education

Meer, N., & Chapman, A. (2015). Co-creation of marking criteria: students as partners in the assessment process. Business and management education in HE, 1-15. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.11120/bmhe.2014.00008

Settlage, D. M., & Wollscheid, J. R. (2019). An analysis of the effect of student prepared notecards on exam performance. College Teaching67(1), 15-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2018.1514485

Schroeder, M., Makarenko, E., & Warren, K. (2019). Introducing a late bank in online graduate courses: the response of students. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning10(2). https://doi.org/10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2019.2.8200

Ross, R. (2021) Reflecting on Well-Being and Assessment Practices Using an Ethics-of-Care Lens. Summer Wellness Series Workshop, University of Calgary. https://taylorinstitute.ucalgary.ca/series/summer-wellness

Yan Z. & Carless, D. (2022) Self-assessment is about more than self: the enabling role of feedback literacy. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 47(7), 1116-1128, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2021.2001431

Author: natashakenny

Senior Director, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. Interdisciplinary academic and professional background in educational development, landscape architecture, urban planning and environmental science.

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