Assess Compassion in Higher Education? Why and How would we do that?
Abstract: This article reports the effects (on students' social and learning experiences) of supporting students in the use of explicitly compassionate interactional strategies during their weekly seminar interactions. Also reported is the impact of this practice on individual performances in critical thinking in seminars. Methods: Findings of a cross disciplinary search on compassion were used to design a compassion focussed pedagogy (a CfP) for the university seminar. This pedagogy was then trialled, through action research, in two departments in a UK HEI. N=97 Humanities under and post graduate students and n=60 Business undergraduates participated in subject seminars that were run using the CfP. Template analysis was used to identify themes in the qualitative data sets: field notes of observed behaviours in seminars run with and without the CfP, films of assessed CfP seminars (n=48 students), and interviews and focus groups (n=33 students). In a final participating business module of ethnically diverse students, statistical analysis explored the effects of the CfP on individual critical thinking performances (n=38). Findings: Overall, students were attitudinally inclined to increase efforts over time to enhance their own and others' social and learning experiences in seminars through compassionate behavioural interventions during discussions; they achieved, or failed to achieve this, in observable ways that were seen and agreed to be appropriate to assess as credit bearing towards their under and post graduate degrees by five out of five external examiners. Students found eye contact – inclusive, excluding or avoidant – was critical to mediating the spread of participation in their seminars. Findings also suggested, tentatively, the potential of the CfP to substantially change the national attainment gap in terms of critical thinking in seminars.