Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Designing for a diverse student cohort

Assessment is a central element in the overall quality of teaching and learning in higher education, which has a significant impact on student learning of knowledge and skills, and their application. Well-designed assessment sets clear expectations, establishes a reasonable workload for students and provides opportunities to self-monitor, rehearse, practice, receive feedback, and foster lifelong learning, helping students to gain deep understanding of their subject and developing their capacities to make judgements about their own and others' work.

Inclusiveness for students does not imply simplifying the context within which they learn. Rather, it is about creating opportunities for all students to demonstrate their competence through effective and accessible assessment practices. With both opportunities and challenges equally associated with teaching diverse learners, well-designed assessment as a part of day-to-day learning and teaching activities provides opportunities for steady progress in developing the skills in analysis and synthesis of new information, enabling students to be empowered to control their own learning, be active learners and push the boundaries of their knowledge.

Who are DIVERSE learners?

Diverse learners can be defined as learners who are from a variety of backgrounds. Examples of background categories that describe diverse learners are:

  • Disability, demographics, degree, dialect, difference
  • Intelligence, income, individual, inclusion
  • Vision, vegetarian, values, variety, veterans, vegan
  • Ethnicity, economic status, equal, ethics, education, experience
  • Race, religion, region, respect
  • Size, sex, self-esteem, sexuality, stereotype, social stratification
  • Intensity, introvert, International, Immigrant,
  • Team work, tolerant, talents, training, travel
  • Youth, years
  • Gender, geography, grades, generation, goal
  • Ability, acculturation, age
  • Multicultural, marital status, mind-set, motivation, morals
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, first in family to attend university, non-English speaking background.

Sourced from CIRTL MOOC. (2016, May 5). Introduction to Diversity [Video file]. Retrieved from

Some of the assessment challenges for students unfamiliar with assessment practices can be:

  • Lack of local cultural knowledge:
  • Unintentional cheating
  • Tutorial participation
  • Group work
  • English language skills
  • Oral presentations

View further details of these individual challenges, or you may like to watch the Assessment for Diverse Learners Part 1 video 6.28 minute.

Good teaching for diverse learners

  • Focus on students as learners
  • Respect and adjust for diversity
  • Provide context-specific information and support
  • Facilitate meaningful intercultural dialogue and engagement
  • Be adaptable, flexible and responsive to evidence
  • Prepare students for life in a globalised world

View further details of these individual teaching practices or you may view a complete 7.50 minute video.

Reflective checklist

The following questions won't always apply to all assessment situations but are worth considering when designing assessment.

  1. Are the assessment tasks in my subject inclusive?
  2. How well do I know my students?
  3. Is student workload considered (especially if the students are studying Online)?
  4. Have I avoided excessive assessment?
  5. Are the assessment tasks designed to assess relevant generic as well as subject specific skills and knowledge?
  6. Is the assessment expectation clear/unambiguous to students?
  7. Are the assessment tasks clearly aligned with the subject learning outcomes?
  8. Have I included an Early Low-Stakes Assessment, where appropriate?
  9. Have I provided a variety of assessment types to develop skills and knowledge?
  10. Have I explained the rationale for group assessment tasks?
  11. Have I provided support or resources about plagiarism/cheating/paraphrasing?
  12. Are students given choice of topics in relevant contexts to demonstrate their knowledge?
  13. Do the assessment tasks provide opportunity for steady progress in developing analytical skills to synthesise new information?
  14. Are students given opportunity to work in diverse cultural environments?
  15. Is timely feedback provided on how to improve, and not focused on what is wrong?
  16. Is subject assessment integrated into an overall plan for course assessment?


CIRTL MOOC. (2016, May 5). Introduction to Diversity [Video file]. Retrieved from