By Eve Bracken-Ingram
Student voice is an increasingly important idea within higher education. We define student voice as the concept of involving students in the decision-making processes that affect their education. Although there has been a great effort to encourage and listen to student voice, assessment is typically left out of the discussion. There are few examples of student voice in higher education assessment, with opportunities for voice limited to retrospective opinions. While this allows for some student voice to be acknowledged, the perspective of students currently in the course are very rarely considered. The lack of student voice in assessment contributes to the unequal power dynamic within classrooms and hinders equity. A 2020 study by Chase (Source) explores how student voice could be included within assessment practices in higher education.
Student voice in assessment is of particular interest in STEM fields. These disciples are typically very intense with assessment practices taking traditional exam format. Additionally, STEM classrooms often lack diversity and retention is low, particularly for minorities. As such, STEM courses would benefit from greater inclusion of diverse student voice within their higher education practices.
Deci and Ryan (2008) discuss the clear link between student motivation and student autonomy. In the context of assessment, student autonomy refers to students having the opportunity to take part in the development of assessment criteria and methods. It is understood that by increasing student autonomy, and as such motivation, the academic outcomes of assessment are enhanced.
Although the benefits of student involvement in assessment are clear, there is a common concern that students do not have adequate content knowledge to successful participate in their development. Chase overcomes this criticism by aiming to involve students within the classroom participation area of evaluation. Classroom participation is a key part of many STEM course's assessment methods. However, the grading criteria for participation can be seen as exclusionary as it rarely takes into account the diverse needs, preferences, and strengths of students. Therefore, the inclusion of student voice in the development of these criteria is essential to foster an equitable learning environment.
In order to investigate the inclusion of student voice within the development of higher education assessment methods in STEM, Chase carried out a study with a diverse group of undergraduate students. This study aimed to develop criteria which would be used to grade students' participation in class. Students were engaged in a discussion where they identified skills which are key to participation. Following the establishment of these key stills, students created a list of behaviours which would demonstrate the effective use of these skills. The final assessment criteria consisted of a collated list of behaviours which students believed represent participation. It was highlighted that students were not expected to display all these behaviours and the role of the list was to ensure a variety of individual strengths could be rewarded.
Students’ perception of autonomy and attitude towards assessment were monitored via surveys. Surveys were completed at multiple times throughout the study, and student response was distinctly positive. A common response emphasized that students felt respected and listened to. As such, students’ perceived autonomy within the classroom increased. Additionally, students felt that the experience deepened their learning by providing a context for and understanding of assessment and learning methods. A minority of students noted that the experience was difficult and uncomfortable. This comment acknowledges the effect of traditional power balance within the classroom and further highlights the lack of experience students have in taking responsibility for their own learning. This underscores the requirement for students to participate in learning and assessment development in order to develop skills which prepare them for learning beyond the classroom. In summary, the inclusion of student voice in assessment development leads to great student motivation, deeper learning experiences and equity for all students within the higher education environment.
[Source Paper] Chase, M. K. (2020). Student Voice in STEM Classroom Assessment Practice: A Pilot Intervention. Research and Practice in Assessment, 15(2).
 Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(3), 182-185.