play to explore fair assessment

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Alison James

Apr 2, 2022, 10:53:13 AMApr 2
to Professors at Play
Hello fellow Playful Profs and happy weekend

Hopefully few of you are reading this given that opener, or not until Monday...

A former colleague contacted me yesterday to say she really wanted to run something creative and playful to get lecturers in a staff development session to explore the "hidden" side of assessment. When we worked together we used to do the kinds of group marking activities where we would come together to assessment anonymised scripts and then have a kind of orchestrated discussion around what we found and how far we agreed/deviated. With the amount of cake we all consumed we definitely got playful at times but it was not really what I would call play. I've also successfully used LEGO and LEGO Serious Play as a means of building group understandings of assessment  which is great for rendering things in 3D.

She's particularly keen to surface the kinds of practices that can undermine fair assessment, and to get colleagues away from the easy regurgitation of what SHOULD be happening in assessment, as opposed to what sometimes happens. So I suggested she could run a warm up of Buzzword Bingo to get everyone getting certain things off their chest. This is not meant to be disrespectful, by the way, but is a way of participants naming all the things that they should be bearing in mind or that are important as part of an assessment strategy - and then freeing up the talk to drill into what sometimes goes on.
In case this is sounding vague - and already I apologise for the length of this! - it could be that there is an agreed set of assessment criteria, but someone has made their own mark sheet. It could be that within those criteria people are marking spelling/punctuation/presentation to very varying degrees. it could be that people are interpreting level differently. It could be that there are unconscious biases at work - or thoughts about what a students 'should' be doing at different levels. And a whole heap of other things.

My next suggestion to her was that she create a simple escape room where she could bring in some of these issues and in small groups or together or singly (keeping my options open here!) someone/a group could work through (say centred on 5 of the hidden practices she most wanted to get considered).
I also said I would try and find some other ideas, which is why I am emailing you all. If you know of any resources which are about playful assessment - and particularly - playful exploration of assessment by teachers, not just as playful assessment for students I would love to hear your ideas.

Thank you so much and all best wishes


Maha Bali

Apr 2, 2022, 11:25:56 AMApr 2
to Alison James, Professors at Play
My first thought was to try doing a TRIZ, backward problem-solving with the prompt "How can we create the most UNFAIR assessment ever?"

More on TRIZ and a demo:

Another one I just thought could work now is this Tiny Demons/Monsters drawing activity where they can point out what hidden monsters there are within assessment. Or something!

I also wonder if role play can work? What are the kinds of situations/learns for whom an assessment can be unfair and have people play out why this happens and how it feels?

I'm realizing I am not 100% sure what YOU mean by fair assessment. Fair to learners as in the way it is *designed* so all students can achieve, or fair in the grading of the teachers,  so no one gets a higher grade than they deserve?

I hope all is going well.


Maha Bali, PhD
Associate Professor of Practice, Center for Learning and Teaching, American University in Cairo
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Alison James

Apr 2, 2022, 11:43:16 AMApr 2
to Maha Bali, Professors at Play
thanks so much Maha. Great ideas. In fact I had also suggested to her (but forgot to mention) the idea of completely reversing what you want in the way that you describe with TRIZ.
I think with regards to fairness (what a huge topic that is) she is interested in it in its broadest sense, and from both staff and student perspective.

Much appreciate your input - and on a weekend!

All best wishes


Alison James

Apr 2, 2022, 11:44:46 AMApr 2
to Maha Bali, Professors at Play
ps another one I thought of was through creating a simple card game

Maha Bali

Apr 2, 2022, 1:22:04 PMApr 2
to Alison James, Professors at Play
Ooh I love the idea of a card game. Actually, it would be interesting to look at all the ways that games are fair or unfair, and who gets unfair advantage in some games vs others.

It reminds me of a really annoying software my kid's school uses. They use a memory card game to test spelling! My kid is an excellent speller but her memory game strategy is so-so (I tried!) and it's kind of an inappropriate way to gamify spelling. She gets so frustrated, and it also does not test the learning outcome. Sorry for the tangent/vent 😀 though it may be relevant to what we are saying here: sometimes assessments have elements within them that don't make them good assessments for the primary learning outcomes! Let alone fair!

Laser, Andrea

Apr 2, 2022, 1:40:51 PMApr 2
to Alison James, Maha Bali, Professors at Play
I love using the brainstorming idea of creating parameters around a "How might we improve assessment practices to....." and then include a Jamboard or if in real life, post it notes with parameters like:

-Your idea as to cost over a million dollars
-Your idea has to use magic
-Your idea can only use technology from 100 years ago
-Your idea can only use technology that has not yet been invented

We recently did this in a breakout room via zoom and the participants loved it. You get really wild ideas and then lots of ideas that you can build from and that have key features that you would be looking for in a better design.

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Alison James

Apr 2, 2022, 2:04:32 PMApr 2
to Laser, Andrea, Maha Bali, Professors at Play
love D school and I have their Creative Acts for Curious People - excellent ideas, including assumptions busting.

thanks Andrea - I love the idea of the parameters around this!

Laurine Hurley

Apr 3, 2022, 6:49:30 PMApr 3
to Maha Bali, Alison James, Professors at Play

This is a terrific idea, Maha, thanks!


Best wishes




Laurine Hurley

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Australian Catholic University

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Laura Mitchell

Apr 5, 2022, 11:50:44 AMApr 5
to Alison James, Professors at Play
Hi Alison
love Maha's suggestion, a 'worst case' is always one of my favourite go-tos. I wasn't entirely sure from your brief whether your colleague was just foregrounding the issue of the marking/grading process, or also the assessment design? I wonder if (in a small adjustment to buzzword bingo) she could ask them to play 'snakes' and 'ladders' using some blank or pre-written cards. I often use this set-up for structured discussions around benefits and risks (and allocate the numbers accordingly). In this game you ask the staff to work through six cards, the cards specify their grade but they add the reason for the advantage/penalty. It could help foreground discussion about the scale of reward or penalty for particular features of assessments.

Rough idea of possible scenario:
"There are all things we tend to 'reward' or 'punish' in marking an assessment, within and beyond the criteria. In this game of snakes and ladders everyone will get 6 cards; 3 snakes (penalties) and 3 ladders (rewards). These all apply to the same imaginary assessment piece. When you draw a card, write down why you think you would apply that advantage or penalty"

Snake cards have numbers between -5 (common) and -25 (rare). Ladders cards have numbers between +10 (common) and +35 (rare). So the players might select a random card 'Snake -5' and say 'I forgot to include all my references', or 'Ladder +10' and say 'I was lucky and the exam question was something similar to a previous assignment'. At the end of the exercise ask the players to add up their total score and explain where that would fit on their usual (official) grading criteria.

Alternatively, the rationale on such cards can be generated from previous workshops to provoke discussion about overall fairness - an honest one from my team might include 'Snake -10' my essay was the 25th one marked that day and the marker was tired! 


Dr Laura Mitchell (she/her)
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Alison James

Apr 5, 2022, 1:41:04 PMApr 5
to Laura Mitchell, Professors at Play
thanks Laura, for such a detailed suggestion.It's a really good point - it's often when we assess, especially when we have big marking teams (I used to do this sort of thing with a group of 30 markers on a cross-College unit) that we realise that our assessment design needs change, and it is the reason why there is confusion among markers as to how to treat certain things. There was something I found very useful and the only term I remember was halo effect (which seems to be diversely interpreted) but certainly things like was the marker hungry, tired, grumpy, had they marked a string of poor submissions and been so relieved to find a better one that they over-rated it and others were all some of the factors.
And I love Snakes and Ladders but I hated it as a child!

All the best Alison

Crook-Lockwood, Sheila

Apr 5, 2022, 2:10:56 PMApr 5
to Alison James, Laura Mitchell, Professors at Play

I absolutely go back and reevaluate my grades when I get to an assignment that is so much better than the others. I need to see if I am being fair in my assessments.


This is so, so true: they marked a string of poor submissions and been so relieved to find a better one that they over-rated it and others were all some of the factors.


Sheila Crook-Lockwood MSN-Ed, RN, IHP1

Associate Professor of Nursing, RN-BSN, Upper Iowa University

Cedar Rapids Center

1641 Boyson Square Dr., Suite 100

Hiawatha, IA 52233

Work/Cell number 319-389-7662


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Alison James

Apr 6, 2022, 5:41:15 AMApr 6
to Crook-Lockwood, Sheila, Laura Mitchell, Professors at Play
I agree - it is an iterative process.
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