Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cultural diversity and assessment

For the course I am taking "Assessing and Evaluating for Learning", I have been asked to consider the implications of cultural diversity and assessment.

What factors need to be considered?
I grew up as a student and educator in a culture that prized reading and writing, and where assessment revolved (and still does) around written essays and exams. As a midwifery educator I have carried on this approach - a midwife's role depends and relies heavily on the ability to document decisions, assessments and actions thus I have used written assessment as a means of developing students' skills in writing.

One of the challenges midwifery education has faced in New Zealand is how to recruit and retain Maori women. Keeping in mind what Lesley Remaka (2007) has said about how Maori children learn ie in an oral and community environment, the question has to be: does education fail people of other cultures in how we assess them? Should we not be looking at alternative ways of assessing people who have ways of learning that do not 'fit' in with the reading/writing approach to learning? If cultural groups learn together as communities, should they not be assessed in the same way? If their culture of an oral one...again, should not assessment be carried out in a similar way?

At the same time, we also need to ensure that student of different cultures are prepared by the education system to work in the dominant culture of New Zealand. In other words, the student has to be able to function as a midwife who can document extensively in English. A tension I think that I would like to hear more about from you.

Assessing people of cultural diversity?
I have made mention of Maori students, but the fact in New Zealand is that we are a multi-cultural society rather than bi-cultural, and as educators we are faced with many learning styles and needs so how much of an 'ask' is it for educators to consider all cultires when designing assessment? Sure, be flexible and indiviudal but how does that work in reality?

Being aware of cultural diversity has become even more important for me to consider as I facilitate my first open online course, Facilitating Online. There are a range of informal students in the course who not only live in other parts of the world, but have languages other than English as their first language. Time zones and language differences will disadvantage them when it comes to assessment. They may also suffer more subtle disadvantages because of the lack of understanding that teachers in New Zealand may have of their cultural context in their home land.

Benefits to the learner
As an educator having an awareness of cultural diversity and cultural attitudes to learning has got to ultimately benefit the learner. Whilst you may not be able to angle every piece of assessment to individual students and learning styles, a greater awareness of differences should underpin your development of assessment.

One example I can think of is Asian students' attitudes to plagiarism. I have been told that Asian students copy people's because they honor the words of older, wiser people - they think it is disrespectful to question. However, as the educator, I would mark this copying down...severely. Therefore, it is my responsibility to support students to turn around their attitude to plagiarism and develop their skills of critical thinking. Another strategy may be to mix students of different cultural groups so they start to understand each others' different perspectives and support each other through assessment processes.

What strategies do you use when developing assessment for students who come from different cultures?


ACTION. (2009). Assessment an cultrual diversity. Retrieved 10th September, 2009, from

Remaka, L. (2007). Maroi approaches to assessment. Canadian Journal of Native Education. 30, 1: 126-144.

University of Melbourne. (2006). Encouraging Inclusive Practice in Teaching, Learning and Assessment. retrieved 10 September, 2009, from

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Angela said...

Hi Sarah - sorry it's been a while since I've been able to stop by so to speak. Been keeping up with your travels etc on Fb though.
I think this is certainly an issue that as educators we are and will continue to be challenged by as widening participation impacts more and more on the student population.
With our MSc Advanced OT that is delivered online we are gaining students from international arenas and so have had to really consider the issue of cultural approaches to learning.
For our first year of the programme (last academic year) we piloted the use of negotiated assessment whereby students work with the module leader to negotiate how best they will demonstrate their achievement of the learning outcomes. We had to ensure that all assessments had academic rigour and parity across the cohort, but the process worked well and has been evaluated well by students, staff and our external examiner. Hope this may be of some use in your discussions?
Good luck with the course.

Sarah Stewart said...

I totally agree with you, Angela, that this is a wonderful way of assessing students...I am sure this is the way we need to go in terms of assessment. would this work in your undergraduate program...or any health undergraduate program? How does it work with a large number of practical is it for this level or individuality/flexibility in classes of 50...100..200 students?

minority midwife said...

Thanks for writing about this. I am still fresh out of school, and the whole experience is still very raw to me, despite how far removed from it I work on being :o)

Sarah Stewart said...

Hello minority midwife...first of all...congratulations on becoming a midwife! I have read your blog in the past & know you have overcome many challenges to become a midwife.

I think new graduates usually feel the same...the last thing they want to do is think about their student program...they have enough to do...focusing on life as a new graduate. However, it may be interesting to have this conversation in a year or two once you have had time to reflect. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about cultural diversity in education...what you have learned and what you would recommend.

Best wishes for the next stage of your midwifery career.