Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Involving students in their own assessment

Anne Tierney, Edinburgh Napier University


Students learn better if their assessment contributes to learning. There is growing evidence from the Academic Strategy & Practice at Edinburgh Napier (ASPEN) project that involving students in metalearning improves their learning. Introducing them to Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy can be helpful and the University of Nevada’s ‘Transparency in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’ project (Winkelmes, 2009) takes this thinking into the 21st century.

Another excellent resource that can be pursued with students is a video by Claus Brabrand (2007) entitled ’Teaching Teaching and Understanding Understanding’ which clearly explains constructive alignment as preparation for engaging students in their own assessment.

Quite often we assess students in large classes with multiple-choice questions (MCQs). It can be helpful to involve students in the process of writing MCQs themselves. Peerwise ( is an open source piece of software that allows students to write, answer and critique MCQs on their courses. Academics can review the development of questions as students question one another and make suggestions to improve each other’s questions. Academics can then choose to highlight questions that students have written in their lectures, and they can use (edited) student-authored questions in exams, giving students a sense of ownership.

Designing authentic assessment

When thinking about assessment, essays are often what first comes to mind. As alternatives, it’s worth thinking about the kind of written material students would be asked to produce in a typical job. Rather than an essay, it’s possible to set students the task of producing a report, a financial statement, a paper for a journal, a publicity poster, a presentation, an information leaflet or other authentic outputs. All of these types of written assessment require a different set of skills from those needed for writing an essay. It can pay dividends also to involve students in designing the grading rubric as part of their assignment because this helps them to engage fully with the task and the assessment criteria.

Furthermore, there are benefits in involving students in research activities or community projects, or getting them to organise student conferences, or community fund-raising events. Students then have to utilise and demonstrate their negotiation skills, or learn to deal with finances, work to deadlines, be flexible to accommodate last-minute changes and evaluate success of outcomes. All of this can be documented in a written report used for assessment, combining the development and organisation of activities, reflections on a student’s individual contribution, and their thoughts on their own learning as part of self-evaluation.

Another valuable form of assessment can be undertaken by getting students to blog and share their experiences. The act of writing regularly helps to make it a more straightforward process (Elbow, 1973, 1997), and Moon (2003) advocates the use of reflective writing as an aid to deeper learning experiences. Too often, learning is seen as a solitary pursuit, but learning occurs when we share our experiences in communities (Wenger, 1998).


Bloom, B.S. (1956) Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: McKay.

Brabrand, C. (2007) Teaching Teaching, and Understanding Understanding, available at [accessed 29/09/2014]

Elbow, P. (1973) Writing Without Teachers. New York and London: Oxford University Press.

Elbow, P. (1997) High stakes and low stakes in assigning and responding to writing. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 69, pp. 5–13.

Moon, J. (2003) Learning Journals and Logs, Reflective Diaries. Centre for Teaching & Learning, University College Dublin.

University of Nevada (no date) Transparency in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Retrieved 7 August 2014, from

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Winkelmes, M. (2009) Illinois Initiative on Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois. Retrieved from