Students taking Ownership of Assessments: My Creative and Independent Project

 It’s funny how the things you end up really enjoy in teaching are the ones you have accidentally stumbled upon. This is certainly the case with the final assessment of my third-year Victorian Cities module. Having decided that the first two assessments for this module would be a 1,000 word source reflection (20%) and a 2,500 word essay (40%), I needed to choose a third assessment, but I knew I definitely didn’t want to have an exam. I thought about my students: what kind of transferrable skills would be gained from another traditional assessment? What would my students enjoy doing as their final assessment? How would I like to mark the end of my module and, for my students, the end of their final year at university?

I had initially thought that I would get them to ‘make’ a primary source. But, a quick discussion with students suggested that not everybody would like this idea. It was then I decided that under the ‘creative and independent projects’ banner I would ask them to choose what they wanted to do. Worth 40% of their final mark, my guidelines are brief and flexible. I stuck to the idea that this project should be owned and developed by the students themselves. I’ve suggested that students can create a mock primary source (newspaper report, diary entry, letter and so on); a poster/ exhibition display; write a blog; or produce a sound recording. In addition to these, I’ve also been presented with a song, a board game, an exhibition proposal, a radio programme, magazine articles and a walking tour. I have absolutely loved marking these assessments.

In asking that students become active learners, we need to consider how this is followed through in their assessments. I’m lucky that this assessment point is simply described as a ‘Portfolio’ on my university system. This has provided me with the flexibility to enable my students to do what they want with their assignments. The only caveat I have is that the output is submitted with a 1000 word critical reflection worth 10% of their final mark. Their critical reflection needs to contextualise and situate their project within a primary and secondary source base. They are invited to reflect on the key terms and ideas, the intended audience of the output, the content of the output and its presentation.  

So, why do I like this assessment format?

  1. It’s fun
  2. It changes the dynamic of the classroom and expands my role as lecturer/teacher. As I teach Victorian Cities as a year-long module it means that the repetitive style of lecture/ workshop session is broken up. As a class we move into an IT suite for three weeks where I assist and help them develop their proposed projects. I introduce them to databases and primary sources collections that I don’t always have time to show them in other classes.
  3. They approach this work differently. This is a really interesting aspect of the project that I had not really thought about when I initially devised this task. I’ve found that they read and engage with the primary sources differently. They are interested in the small details, language and presentation rather than skimming for points.
  4. Students are encouraged to use different skills and to show off more of what they can do. For instance, my radio show output was made by a student who worked on the student radio. But, I also think that this assignment supports students who have a variety of skillsets.
  5. It’s another way for them to communicate their research beyond essays and exams. For instance, by asking them to think about their audience I’m encouraging them to think about different ways research can be disseminated. I’ve really liked the pieces directed at school children. Here students have looked at the relevant key stages to think about posters/ exhibition design.

If you don’t believe me then check out these post from my students:

Laura Fitzpatrick, Billie-Gina Thomason, Andrew Madden and Harry Coughlan. [I will be releasing these posts from 10th September so keep your eyes peeled!]

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