Decolonising assessment

Instructor:  Dr Ricardo Twumasi

Module:  This is an optional module which will be open to PGT students in the IoPPN 
Assessment activity:
  This module will provide an opportunity for students to be empowered to become an active part of decolonising their education. As part of this attempt to question and disrupt power, no assessment is given in the acknowledgement that assessment is inherently an exercise of power. Instead, students will take part in three specific activities and give feedback to each other.

NB: This module will run for the first time in 2022, so there is currently no evaluation data. Watch this space for updates after the first iteration!


 Why did you decide not to use assessment on this module?

This is module will be an option to anyone across the IoPPN at level 7 as a 15-credit module. I think it is important to have it as an opt-in for as many students as possible so that students can chose to facilitate the university’s approach to decolonisation.

When I started researching decolonisation within higher education, I could see there is a push from students to have more control over what is in their curriculum and the colonial context of what they are taught. Within this, it is really hard for educators to tell students what decolonisation is and propose such a curriculum as this really comes from a grass-roots movement derived from anti- establishment ideas. It is contradictory that this is coming within the establishment of the university, but the idea is to be as anti-establishment as possible!

Some of the ideas for this came from Abbie Hoffman- Steal this book   which is a ‘guide’ to challenging the establishment, a skill that students should value! Often new ideas are met with scepticism in academia and wider society, and this is part of the underpinning of the decolonisation movement- about who is respected, who creates and who consumes knowledge. It is about recognising ways of knowing that do not sit within traditional paradigms and including communities who were not able to communicate knowledge or whose knowledge was not seen as valid or publishable.

Carl Rogers questions the idea of assessment and its necessity. Whatever the merits or perceived necessity of assessment, it is nevertheless a classic example of imposition of power from the establishment onto others. We cannot claim to have a decolonised curriculum if academics are imposing power and saying what is good and not and there is this unquestioned notion of infallibility of academic judgment. Students should be empowered to judge their own standards.


How will/did you set it up?

This module was co-created with a PhD and PGT student to help decide what would be included.

Everything is student-led as discussed above, so what is exciting about this module is that it is co-created to model ground-up curriculum design.

Instead of the typical end of term summative assessment, students will undertake three main activities throughout the module to obtain the 15 credits.

  1. Student led symposium

Students will present a critique of a paper, lecture or book and offer a critical analysis of the implications for equality, power dynamics and the influence of racism, sexism, colonialism and imperialism of the work.

  1. Propose a lecture (decolonise this lecture)

Students will propose a new lecture for this module by democratically voting on a new topic. This aims to creative an inclusive avenue for continuous change of the content presented in this module. Students will design the structure, content and reading list and I will give the lecture.

  1. Participation in seminar discussion and debate

Students will be expected to debate, challenge and critique ideas during seminars.

They are still doing things throughout the module, but the idea is to go against the power dynamics of imposing assessment on students that causes stress, fear, and often a devaluing of education in favour of grades.  I don’t want what is taught to only be respected because it is being graded, or for students to be in fear of critique and expressing their true opinions about issues like privilege and power when those opinions are being graded. I hope this module will help them to realise the arbitrary nature of assessment and grade and empower them somewhat in the process. By doing this, we will contribute towards decolonisation and inclusion.


How will you design the assessment criteria and weighting?

I wanted a pass/fail initially for reasons mentioned above but I was concerned that students might not want to take it because it could affect their C-score.

So basically, students assign each other marks – it will be a democratic process and the three activities will be split. Because this will be totally co-created with students, I cannot say at this point how it will work! Students might be randomly assigned and blindly or openly mark each other; they might have an open excel sheet where they assign marks to each other. They will decide.


How will you give feedback?

The feedback will mostly come from the students themselves. I will give them feedback along side this, on their lecture ideas, I will give them on-the-spot responses throughout the course and debates.

But students will create the mark scheme, but they have to justify it and why they are giving particular grades.


How will you explain the assessment to the students?

I will take one lecture to chat through and democratically agree these details and thought behind the assessment with students. During this, they will decide how they want to mark each other and the rationale and theory behind their approach to assessment.

Students will have the module handbook with learning outcomes and brief, but we will talk about this throughout the module.


What benefits do you think you will see?

  • Redressing focus on grades. There is a 1973 Film The Paper Chase- which satirised the idea of grading and highlighted the struggles of this group of students to pass notoriously difficult law class. In the end the students realised their grade didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I have had so many difficult conversation with students heartbroken about grades: but in the real world, grades really don’t matter a few years after you graduate.
  • Redressing the balance of power and contributing towards decolonisation by providing a brave space for students to take risks. This is more likely to hapen if they are not being summatively assessed. Students may be challenged by the idea of taking responsibility for assessment through the way it is designed, but that simulates real activism.
  • Potential for other modules. By doing the marking, this will have effects on their understanding of what goes on in marking procedures! It will also empower them to understand the arbitrariness of grading and question the infallibility of markers.
  • As it is an optional module, the increase in numbers will mean less personalisation, but it will not significantly increase my workload as the assessment is not academic lead. Hyflex will mean I can use blended learning and increase inclusivity and access.

What challenges do you think you will encounter and how will you address them?

  • Potential for chaos! Students will potentially have more power than me over what grades are given and why. But I hope when they are given control over own education, they will respond with maturity and take ownership. Perhaps a PGT course in fact needs a bit less regulation…! Part of the challenge for me is getting used to my lack of power and embracing the chaos.
  • Students ‘gaming the system’ and giving each other all good or bad grades: we may have some Machiavellians in the group, and I think students will realise the game theory optimal solution to this assessment is to give each other the best grades. But actually, if they are cooperative and constructive, this is fine! As long as they have some idea of standards with which to judge each other, I will not be unhappy if students give each other 100s! It is unusual for a lecturer to give more than a 75 and we can talk about why this is.
  • Possibility of students not liking the on- the -spot critiques and wanting privacy. I feel accommodations can be made whereby the feedback can be given privately. However, I do feel that part of PGT level study is taking risks and ‘going public’ of assessment and grades. I feel that the more is public, the more ethical people will act because of accountability. As mentioned above, students are more likely to take risks when they are not being assessed in a high-stakes context.


What are the next steps?

  • Evaluation! This is the first time I have run this, and I will need to gather evidence of learning as well as figuring out a way to judge this as a decolonisation module.
  • I will keep a diary for critical incidents. It will be interesting to see who fails or passes each other and why.  I want to know what they have learned about assessment by participating in this process.
  • Hyflex and how blended interactions are managed will be an important factor to monitor.

In the long term, I would like it to be open to all students across the College eventually as part of the flexible curriculum.



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