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Inclusive assessment practices for healthier learning environments, with Char Lewis-Sutherland

Portrait picture of Char Lewis-Sutherland

Teach.Learn.Share: Episode two

Assessing student learning can stir up negative emotions as it is often associated with what’s “wrong,” what needs to be “fixed” or “bettered.” So, it gets a bad rap. But what if we can reframe the way we think about assessment? Shannon Dea, Dean of Arts at the University of Regina, invites us to rethink the language we use around assessment:

“Academics like to use spatial-geographic metaphors when they talk about assessments. We often talk about assessments as milestones or gateways, for instance. The message that comes through very strongly when we use such tropes is that assessments are something to be gotten past – something external to the student that the student must overcome. I want to suggest a different way of conceiving assessments – assessments as windows. To think about assessments as windows is to treat them as opportunities to see what the student is doing and how the student is doing” (Creating windows).

Indeed, assessment can be a place to celebrate good pedagogy and student success. It can showcase what instructors are doing well and what students are learning.

In this second episode of our miniseries on assessment and well-being, our guest, Char Lewis-Sutherland, a Senior Advisor on McGill’s Equity Team, challenges us to think, dialogue, and act creatively on assessment. They reflect on how to keep assessment focused on learning rather than on measuring shortcomings. Char, Jasmine, and I also discuss inclusive and anti-racist assessment practices that seek to effectively support all students while at the same time promoting an academically rigorous and healthy learning environment.

Access the transcript

We also address why traditional assessment strategies can affect students unequally, favouring some over others. Grading and giving feedback, for example, can be two of the most critical sites of assessment inequities because they are so deeply linked to educational outcomes and students’ sense of self (Sheridan Center). They also can be imbued with implicit bias, including assumptions about students having characteristics or abilities that are not among those being assessed. Listen in to hear what Char has to say on this topic, as well these questions:

  • How does awareness-building and self-reflectivity on the part of the instructor contribute to limiting biases in assessment and creating a healthier learning environment?
  • Are we using appropriate strategies and tools to assess students’ learning?
  • Why are assessment strategies, such as making expectations clear to students and offering flexibility in assignment types, equitable and anti-racist strategies?
  • What is a “wise feedback” framing statement and how does it help students from structurally disadvantaged groups?

Char also suggests these further resources:

Stay tuned for episode three of Teach.Learn.Share! In “Assessment, learning, and student well-being, with undergraduates Jordan Leeson and Hyeonwoo Park,” we will hear first-hand student accounts of the emotions around assessment and their potential impact on learning. Our guests will also discuss what they think about students sharing the responsibility for improving assessment practices.

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