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Peer Assessment in Higher Education: A Viable Inclusive Practice


I believe strongly in encouraging individuality and agency in the classroom. After my own experiences with elementary and secondary education, and the experiences of my peers, in which we often felt in some way misunderstood and unacknowledged by our teachers, it has been important for me to advocate for supporting all types of learners with all types of interests within the classroom. Even without knowing much about theoretical aspects of inclusivity, I strived to provide an equitable classroom during my time as a high school teacher. 

The first time I formally explored inclusivity was about a year after stepping out of my teacher role. I was tutoring a student who was in an Early Childhood Education program. Many of their textbooks reflected the importance of individualized support for young students and inclusivity of all students, regardless of ability or interest. The next time my interest in inclusive practices was piqued was when I joined McGill University’s Assessment and Feedback Group (AFG). Here, I brought my experiences as student and teacher, and my support of inclusive approaches to learning, to the group’s conversations. The group inspired me to do some research into inclusive education practices in post-secondary settings. During this research, I found a practical 2-page article published by Plymouth University entitled “7 Steps to: Inclusive Assessment.” The overview of the article effectively summarizes the aim of an inclusive approach to education: 

“Higher Education (HE) expansion has resulted in greater student diversity. Rather than focusing on specific target groups or dimensions of diversity such as disabled students or cultural groups, an inclusive approach aims to make HE accessible, relevant and engaging for all” (Thomas & May, 2010) (p. 1).

The Plymouth University article was an important find because it highlights a perceived difficulty for instructors in implementing inclusivity in post-secondary environments. As pointed out in the first chapter of the Benson (2013) casebook on inclusive practices in higher education, implementing inclusive practices in higher education often requires staff development, the provision of teaching and student supports, and the development of more inclusive higher education pedagogies. These requirements suggest that implementing inclusive practices is a daunting task. This perceived difficulty has been echoed in conversations at AFG meetings and other conversations that I have had (or overheard) with instructors and students during lectures and workshops on ableism. It’s a perception that can dissuade instructors from adopting inclusive practices. In this post, I will use peer assessment, an assessment strategy mentioned in the Plymouth article, as an example of an inclusive practice that can be implemented in a university setting. I address two characteristics that illustrate inclusion: choice and social interaction. 

Firstly, peer assessment can be considered an inclusive assessment practice through the characteristic of choice. Choice can be offered through peer assessment in a variety of ways. (1) Students can have a say in choosing the criteria that they use to assess one another’s work or the format of the feedback that they will be giving and receiving. (2) Students can also be allowed to choose the peers to whom they will provide feedback and receive feedback from. (3) In the case of teamwork, students can determine the criteria for a team contract and (4) also choose their roles within the team. (5) It might also be possible to offer students the choice of using different technologies, such as audio/video-recordings or online rubrics/forms, to complete the assessment. 

Secondly, peer assessment can be an inclusive assessment practice through the socialization opportunities it provides for students. Students interact with each other when communicating their feedback. Again, in the case of teamwork, students develop their interpersonal skills by working together. Setting team goals and having team accountability are other formative socialization opportunities that can be provided through peer assessment. Peer assessment is participatory; it invites students to take a role in their own and their peers’ academic achievement. As a participatory method, peer assessment invites socialization and the voices of students to be prioritized within the classroom. Accessible and participatory strategies, such as peer assessment, are important to implementing inclusivity in higher education (Benson, 2013). Providing opportunities for social interaction creates an inclusive classroom, as benefits of social interaction can include an increased sense of community and acceptance of all students within the classroom.  

These brief observations regarding two characteristics of peer assessment show the viability of implementing an inclusive assessment practice in higher education classrooms. In general, allowing students choice supports their agency in the classroom and providing students with socialization opportunities helps them develop their interpersonal skills. All students can therefore benefit from engaging in peer assessment. 

References 

Benson, R., Heagney, M., Hewitt, L., Crosling, G., & Devos, A. (2013). Managing and supporting student diversity in higher education: A casebook. Oxford: Chandos Publishing. 

Plymouth University. (2014). 7 steps to: Inclusive assessment. Retrieved from https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/2/2401/7_Steps_to_Inclusive_Assessment.pdf 

Simone Tissenbaum is a second-year grad student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University and a current Graduate Student Assistant with Teaching and Learning Services. Outside of the world of academia, Simone is a dancer. She has blended these two worlds together in her research, which uses dance to explore the topic of safe and healthy relationships with youth.

2 comments on “Peer Assessment in Higher Education: A Viable Inclusive Practice

  1. Emma Sparks

    Thank you! I found this very helpful!.

    Liked by 1 person

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