Last year, a small group of researchers at Liverpool set out to understand how principles of ‘critical pedagogy’ – the approach to teaching that insists students must play an active and leading role in their own learning strategies – are being implemented in the University of Liverpool.
The research focused upon a small number of modules that apply principles of critical pedagogy in that way students are assessed. It drew upon in-depth interviews with a sample of the staff members that co-ordinate eight modules in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences to explore how successfully those principles are applied in the assessment of those modules.
In our research we found a range of innovative and sometimes challenging ways that module leaders sought apply the core aims of critical pedagogy. We found a range of forms of assessment that:
- allow the structure of learning to be defined by student learners’ lived reality, rather than a predetermined or designed structure.
- encourage students to be ‘free learners’, able to challenge the physical and ideological structure of their pedagogical environment and relationships.
- move students to action and involvement in the world in ways that promote and further the causes of social justice and democracy.
The module leaders we spoke to were committed to allowing students to challenge the dominant ways of reading the world, and to do so in a more open ways. The key motivation for others was to introduce to students an understanding of the social and political dimensions of their subject. There is evidence that such approaches to assessment are important for ensuring the engagement of a more diverse range of participants in education. Critical pedagogy approaches can be important to a widening participation agenda.