Integrating Student Voice in Higher Education Assessment Practice: Negotiating the Dialogic Vacuum

Bain, Jennifer and Golmohammadi, Lili. 2016. 'Integrating Student Voice in Higher Education Assessment Practice: Negotiating the Dialogic Vacuum'. In: BERA Annual Conference 2016. Leeds, United Kingdom 13 - 15 September 2016. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

Higher Education (HE) assessment practice remains imbued with the principles of behaviourism. The use of learning outcomes and ‘constructively aligned’ assessment criteria are based on behaviouristic principles, often requiring educators and learners to conform to a model where learning is pre-determined, defined in a way that negates the need for discussion and instead creates a ‘dialogic vacuum’ around assessment. This can present a paradox for educators who seek to integrate more contemporary theories of learning into their practice.

Drawing on a two-year qualitative research study (sample size: Student N=100), this paper seeks to examine this paradoxical dilemma by outlining an assessment approach that frames and uses assessment criteria in ways that seek to empower learners, considering dialogic assessment practice from dual perspectives of ‘learner’ and ‘teacher’, threading theory and practice together to offer an illuminative case study on the impact of this assessment approach at HE departmental level.

The paper examines whether this approach to using assessment criteria helps to transform the ‘dialogic vacuum’ of assessment into a rich and vibrant community of practice, seeking to embody a set of principles that might be adopted as part of instigating incremental change to HE assessment practice. It draws on a conceptual model of Assessment for Becoming (Bain, 2010) that promotes assessment practice that must value and validate the experience students bring to the classroom, giving them a voice that has space, audience and influence (Leitch et al., 2005). It seeks to integrate assessment as a component of pedagogy that allows for collaborative and reflexive feedback and marking (Boud and Hawke, 2003; Hounsell, 2007).

Qualitative data from the case study is analysed to offer insights from the perspective of the learner, contrasting the experiences of this dialogic practice in assessment, to prior experiences of being assessed in HE that follow more standard assessment patterns. Findings reveal ways a more standard approach constrained creative and critical thinking and impacted on longer term subject confidence and illustrate how using assessment criteria to focus learning conversations and narratives changed perception of assessment, from an indistinct procedure exclusively enacted by others, to a transparent and inclusive process freeing the learner to take risks and experiment with greater confidence (Boud and Falchikov, 2007).

The paper concludes by offering a set of assessment principles and practice that might be applied in other HE contexts.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



13 September 2016Accepted
13 September 2016Completed

Event Location:

Leeds, United Kingdom

Date range:

13 - 15 September 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

26 Apr 2017 15:28

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:26


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