I’ve been involved in supporting media rich, student led, patchwork assessment types for as long as I have been in HE. Year on year the quality of work that I receive amazes me, in a good way. My PgC students have produced: Websites, magazine articles, academic journal articles, animations, videos, and reports for colleagues. This variety in practice is (currently) supported through the Pebblepad platform.

Portfolio extract of an animated action research project, created with Powtoon, uploaded in to Pebblepad, from Matt Bryan, Harper Adams University.

Encouraging choice and negotiation in assessment is something that undoubtedly gets easier in time. I have pulled together a few points from this year’s assessment cycle to provide a note to self, but also, hopefully to offer up some ideas that others that may find helpful. Here’s what I learnt:

  • Encourage students to identify what skills they want to develop and to consider how their assessment product can help with that. If someone wants to develop animation skills, can they meet the learning outcomes through this medium? Equally if students already have strengths that they wish to play to, and further develop, then this too can be encouraged.
  • Be clear what support you can offer, and what you cannot. I have few skills in animation or high level desktop publishing, and my HTML skills are rusty, these skills need to be supported in other ways and students must be clear of that when they choose which type of media/genre to work with.
  • Be honest if something may not work – for example a poster can be a very rich medium but it may not provide scope to demonstrate all of the necessary learning outcomes on sufficient depth. There may be ways around such issues, but they should be surfaced early. For example, with the poster, it may be that supplementary material can be added e.g. poster plus a take away booklet, or a video.
  • Take care not to be wowed by the media and ensure that the assessment criteria explicitly identifies what will be rewarded. Technology or creative flair could be part of this, but I have found that providing this criteria can be a deterrent to those who wish to use more traditional formats, which are perfectly valid. To allow the criteria to reward the many possible presentation formats, I have therefore tended to include a criterion built around ensuring whether this product suitable for the intended audience.
  • Sharing between peers is good, but there must be a narrative support around the process of sharing which recognises that excellence can come in different ways for different audiences, and which does not demotivate some students because of the creative flair of others. Traditional academic writing must be seen in equal terms.
  • Mocking up examples of how work could look, and better using past examples dissipates the fear of risk taking. If others have used different formats, the way is paved.

Another learning point from this year was around the use of reflective journals to support the development of project management, patchwork and teaching practice. Over many years I have tried to use learning journals as part of a strategy to build reflective capabilities. The results have always been limited with, usually, a surface level engagement. The demand of regular journaling can be problematic, and can prompt artificial reflections. This year I required students to make three reflections in twelve weeks, with the purpose of taking stock and managing personal progress. Three appeared to be a meaningful sweet-spot where there was detailed engagement, productive reflection and evidence of sustained engagement with the learning process.