Simulacra of Empowerment?

An Exploration of Peer & Self-Assessment through the Narratives of Staff & Students

Julian BondyDr. Chloe Patton, School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Gap in thinking/research on peer assessment. Peer and self assessment often used as a way of realising formative learning outcomes. Rhetoric about student centred learning but not much reflection on what this means. No School or University policy on peer or self assessment but a lot of practice happening, although not that successfully. Literature talks about how wonderful this type of assessment is, but students lived reality was different. They disliked it even though staff were interested in learning and teaching and innovative assessment. Literature talks about this as a means of empowering students but has not explored in detail how this happens and what this empowerment means.

Relation to quality assurance which Boud 2007 says makes students passive. Innovative assessment through self and peer assessment used as a foil to this rhetoric and disempowerment of quality assurance. However discourse of assessment for student empowerment may not have displaced traditional approaches to assessment ie practice has not really changed.

Tan (2004) typology of different forms of power:

Sovereign power (SP)- finite commodity, some people possess at expense of other. Can give it to others but then have less yourself.
Epistemology power – which kinds of knowledge are deemed valid, very pertinent in learning environments. Some kinds of knowledge privileged over other.
Disciplinary power –Foucault. Assessment where people are transformed. Exercise discipline and punishments.

Added structural power –comes from University as a quasi-private service.

Explored these notions of power in focus groups with students.
SP is a useful starting point for analyses but such analyses are limited in scope because they reduce power to actions of individuals.
EP – innovative assessment can challenge notion of tutor as expert because it assumes students’ judgements about their and their peers learning are valid. Students did not see it this way though. Concerns about giving peers power to mark work.
DP – students concerned about marks but deeper than just marks. Students rejected  peer and self assessment as a summative exercise but embraced it when it was formative. Related it to idea of good tutor –the tutor as a guide taking students on a journey. Academic who students described as a guide exercised disciplinary power.
Structural power –students thought it saved tutors time! Saw it as a cost cutting exercise by Universities. Saw direct relation between fees and allocation of funds for teaching. Relates to attitudes as students as consumers.

Assessment practices are inseparable from power dynamics which extend from classroom to institution and beyond. Need careful planning and revising of assessment tasks. However need to relate to larger issues of student disempowerment. Can’t just tweak assessment, need to that about political issues and expectations.

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