Although we did not specifically ask participants about assessment practices, several highlighted this as a key strategy for inclusively teaching international students, with a particular focus on varied formats of assessment. Some, for example, highlighted ‘we are encouraged to utilise different methods, different types of assignments’ (Participant 2, Geographical and environmental studies, University Alliance). Others described purposefully shying away from long written work, in favour of being more inclusively particularly for students whose first language is not English: ‘We don’t need to have a 3000 words assignment, we can have different types of assignments’ (Participant 2, Geographical and environmental studies, University Alliance).
A wide range of assessment techniques was adopted by participants as an alternative to traditional essays. We have compiled these in the table below to show their breadth. These formats are not discipline-specific, although there may be subject norms. This suggests that there could be extensive inter-disciplinary borrowing potential.
Alternative assessment approaches outlined by participants
|Assessment type||Participant numbers||Discipline||Pedagogic purpose|
|Reports||37, 41, 12, 44, 32||Language and area studies||Develop Employability skills|
|Live projects (i.e. working with a ‘client’ or external partner)||32||Business and management||Employability skills|
|Presentations||32, 36, 37||Business and management||Include spoken element; employability skills|
|Poster presentations||12, 32, 36||Business and management, Language and area studies||Informal discussions around the poster reflect on process and understanding without speaking to a rubric|
|Peer assessment||41, 44, 7||Physical Sciences, Business and management, Language and area studies||Avoid loitering in group work|
|Regular quiz requirement||12, 32, 41||Language and area studies, Business and management, Physical Sciences||Engage students with material regularly throughout the semester in low-stakes format|
|Structured project with specific components / portfolio||33, 7||Research methods, Language and area studies||Engage students with material regularly throughout the semester in low-stakes format; practice specific skills|
|Article critique||12, 41||Language and area studies, Physical sciences||Develop critical thinking, reading skills|
|Videos||18, 36||Business and management, Physical Sciences||Include spoken element; employability skills|
|Group assessments||18, 36||Business and management, Physical Sciences||Group work|
|Vivas (oral exam)||12, 18||Language and area studies, Physical Sciences||Informal discussions allow students to reflect on the process and show understanding without speaking to a rubric|
|Micro-teaching||12||Language and area studies||Employability skills|
|Creation of artefacts||31||Education||Critical/creative thinking|
|Reflective commentary||31||Education||Linking skills with critical writing|
|Blogs||36||Business and management||Engage students with material regularly throughout the semester in low-stakes format; gradually develop writing skills|
|Class tests||12||Language and area studies||Avoid plagiarism|
|Diagnostic assignment||12||Language and area studies||Assess skills without a mark|
In this area, we did get a sense that some lecturers were thinking purposefully about innovation in the area of assessment, with a reflection on the limitations of essay writing and how it might disadvantage some groups of students (particularly international students). One illustrative example comes from Participant 31, who described how she encourages students to produce artefacts as forms of assessment. However, they reflected on simultaneously being limited by existing assessment policies and structures at their institution:
Unfortunately, because of the validation, I’m having to continue insisting on a 2000 word written piece, but as it’s playing out now, some of the students are writing an ordinary essay. And some of the students produce artefacts or whatever they want, and write a reflective, critical commentary. Though, the writing process is still there, but they can actually decide on how they want to be assessed, and I’ve had a board game, I’ve had portfolios, I’ve had a banana bread, which is fantastic. (Participant 31, Education and teaching, Russell Group)
Most other participants did not describe having quite as much autonomy and freedom of choice, often seeing institutional limitations as stricter barriers to innovation. However, the implication of such a varied programme of assessment is that it allows students to thrive or experiment with different formats that might allow them to show different capabilities and learn a range of different skills.
Using varied assessment methods does not avoid the challenge of teaching the skills required for assessment. However, it may offer lecturers the opportunity to reflect on a style or format of assessment which lowers the obstacles to success or at least ensures that those skills are directly transferable:
So we’ve done one of the course, which was the video project, but, you know, give them a way of talking and, and facilitating that the assessment since last year, and this year, as well, we are going to introduce vivas as the final exam…It used to be written always, but that doesn’t represent… a complete kind of a picture of what they can achieve. (Participant 18, Physical Sciences, Russell Group)
For instance, one particular way of varying assessment highlighted by participants was the incorporation of authentic assessment. Such approaches place more value on demonstrating skills or techniques relevant to the workplace or graduate destination, outside of the classroom (although, we note this presents new challenges along the lines of navigating employability perspectives internationally). As one participant described:
The way those modules are set up, it’s all authentic assessment. So for each module, our industry partners provide live projects or live cases that students would be expected to work on if they took a role in that organisation or that sector. And then I twin that with an academic commentary, so if, for example, they do an internationalisation strategy for a particular Football Club, that might be a 2000 word report and a slide deck for the club. And I would then twin that with 1000 words, academic commentary. The dual nature of the assessment fits into the experiential learning activities.. (and) gets them to think about their strengths and weaknesses in terms of the skills and competencies that they need, going into the future job market. (Participant 32, Business and management, Russell Group).
Other participants reflected on the role of feedback being particularly important for international students, as a way to support transitions into expectations in UK HE. Multiple participants stressed how they build formative opportunities for feedback into their assessment design, several of whom noted this was specifically developed with international students in mind:
For example, on our main assignments, everyone does a preliminary submission, and we give masses of feedback, like annotate the whole thing. But I always approach that as a conversation. (Participant 30, Education and teaching, Russell Group)
I’m a big believer in having lots of smaller assignments when you get feedback really quickly. (Participant 33, Social sciences, Unaffiliated pre-1992)
For one participant (Participant 7, Language and area studies, Russell Group) this was an iterative process where students could write a response to their feedback and get a response to their response. Such approaches, while inclusive of supporting transitions, are time-intensive and challenged by structures of massification.
Every piece of feedback they get, they write a response to me, and they get a response to their response. And it’s too much, but it’s very effective. In making something really apparent and explicit to them, it also makes it apparently explicit to me, the more I can notice, the more I can tweak and engage and challenge (in teaching). (Participant 7, Language and area studies, Russell Group)
Still other participants described incorporating elements of peer assessment, particularly in the context of group presentations, to encourage engagement and social cohesion. Such perspectives were often linked to the perceived contributions of international students, who are often assumed to support their peers’ learning through offering multiple, alternative perspectives.
At the end of the module 9-10 weeks later, they as a group will have developed a curriculum which they then present using PowerPoint and justify n for whatever they put into the curriculum project. So they like it because they have clear roles in the group. And they have clear milestones of what they have to do each week, and they have a very clear destination that they’re working towards. (Participant 16, Education and teaching, Russell Group)
One participant commented on a change over time in expectations around language and presentation:
So some of the things are changed, like, in assessments? I might say that, okay, it’s a formal assessment. I don’t expect perfect English. I want to see how much you know and how well you present it, if I can understand your argument or your position. Doesn’t matter how complicated the English is, you can just present it simply. That applies to home students as well. Don’t try and dazzle me with language. So if you understand the key terms, how do they apply in context? And have you done the reading, getting that and also breaking things down? That works for students with dyslexia, and other learning and disabilities as well. (Participant 9, Computing, Million+)
This reflects a turn towards inclusivity on a range of dimensions, with a move away from requiring perfect grammar and ‘academic style’, into focusing on the content knowledge, made explicit by this participant:
So you would like in assessment in particular, you want the assessment to be as level as possible. You don’t want to, you know, over penalised or under penalise someone, because of their background is very difficult. (Participant 45, Mathematical sciences, Russell Group)
In contrast to the stance illustrated at the beginning of this part that teaching approaches should be universal, one participant highlighted how changing assessment requirements for particular needs was seen locally as good practice:
So yes, so we want to make adjustments. And over the years, we’ve also varied assessment and change assessment to cater for a variety of needs. We’ve been praised by external examiners. In fact, we just said the external examiner’s report and have certified both but he said we should disseminate our good practice to the world. Because he really sees we’re doing a great job with such a variety of nationalities and students from so many different backgrounds. (Participant 12, Language and area studies, University Alliance).
Participants reflected on the role that assessment plays in adding barriers to learning through increasing anxiety or institutionalising the way students learn. For instance, two participants also commented on the value of having unassessed spaces within their programmes:
Often presence, engagement and individual reflection on those the way in which that stuff gets assessed. So, it takes a whole set of pressures off the classroom space, or the teaching space, which is actually really nice. (Participant 29, Social sciences, Russell Group)
So one of the modules we don’t actually have an assessment, it is credit weighted. But there’s no formal assessment tied to it. ..There is an attendance requirement, they’re required to read and take the activities and quizzes on a weekly basis. But in the module that follows, we ask students to draw on theory from the first module. So it isn’t tied to one particular module, but it forms an overarching assessment (Participant 32, Business and management, Russell Group)
Altogether, many participants were reflective about the epistemologies underpinning assessment and how traditional practices may limit the contributions of certain groups of students (and international students in particular). Yet, an existing barrier to innovations were the perceived challenges of getting more innovative or unusual approaches to assessment past institutional quality assurance groups, which appear wedded to conventional assessment norms.