Assessment tasks in university courses are often close transactions between individual students and teachers. This limits opportunities for students to learn from their peers, or to practise presenting their work to different audiences such as they might encounter in their professional lives. This vignette shows how the use of collaborative exhibitions for assessment can provide these opportunities, while helping students to take responsibility for their learning by setting goals and making decisions for themselves.
"What about the way we're assessed?" said a student. There were murmurs from the crowd. In my experience educational grievances are always worth exploring, so this moment presented an opportunity. I suggested that we use the EDWA principles (which everyone agreed seemed sound) as an evaluative framework for some typical university assessment tasks. Several students were able to contribute examples then and there from their files, some of them from units in the School of Education, and some from different disciplines. Here is a brief summary of some of our findings:
Valid assessment checks out what it claims to check out. If task is intended to assess your capacity to read critically, then it shouldn't test rote memory. If it's intended to assess your application of theory, it shouldn't place too much weight on your spelling. A number of students felt that virtually all university tasks were assessments of writing ability, and though most thought academic writing was an important skill, they agreed that it was certainly possible for one student to "know their stuff" but do poorly, while another might "bluff their way through" on style alone. Several students located themselves in one or other of these categories.
Comprehensive assessment attempts a profile rather than a snapshot. It sets out to discover the pattern of a student's strengths, weaknesses and learning strategies by sampling work over a period of time and on different tasks. It deliberately uses a range of techniques, each of which will provide a different perspective on what has been learned. The students felt that university courses were particularly narrow in terms of the attributes that were valued, and that assessment focused on these almost exclusively. One young woman pointed out that "teachers need a lot of qualities besides good memories and the ability to write essays."
Explicit assessment shares the criteria for successful performance with those who are being assessed. Ideally, those assessed should have a role in developing and negotiating these criteria so that there is some sense of shared meaning amongst participants. Students' experiences varied considerably on this one. In many cases the criteria were assumed, and a major part of the student role was to "sus them out". Others described tasks for which the criteria seemed to slip or shift at the whim of tutors. Others again felt constrained by excessive direction and overly explicit criteria that didn't allow for innovation or creative thinking.
Educative assessment fosters learning, not just through the usual summative feedback mechanisms, but in and through the process of assessment itself. This was the principle that generated most discussion and debate. There was general agreement that "you learned from doing assignments" - that reading and writing could foster deep engagement with an issue or a field of enquiry. However, a number of students felt that their most powerful learning experiences involved interaction with others; shared reflection and discussion with peers, tutors and teachers, and that standard assessment tasks did not really foster this kind of learning. Typical assignments were closed transactions between individual students and tutors, which limited opportunities for learning from one another. On many occasions I have read wonderful student papers and regretted that I was the only person who would have the benefit of learning from their work.
We touched also on the question of how assignment work educated: it encouraged processes of reflection, synthesis and composition, but the students felt that there were important processes that were not supported, such as collaboration and the communication of ideas to different audiences. And perhaps the assessment process could be more educative still if students had the responsibility of deciding how they would go about demonstrating what they had learned, rather than simply meeting requirements in a set form.
We present our pre-service teachers with plenty of evidence that children learn most effectively when they have some responsibility for setting their own learning goals and negotiating the way in which these might be reached. What would happen if this principle were applied in the context of teacher education?
Developing an idea from the Essential Schools Project in the United States (Cushman, 1994), I decided that a Learning Exhibition might provide a vehicle for the sorts of improvements I was seeking to make. Spencer and Angus (1998, 658) point out that student exhibitions involve complex cognitive skills as they must "collaboratively synthesize and evaluate information, and effectively communicate their ideas to others." Our exhibition task took shape as follows:
Select a work of children's literature or an informational text suitable for upper, middle or junior primary children. Design a series of up to five learning activities that will help children comprehend the text and enhance their reading, writing and oral skills. Create an exhibition of your activities that will demonstrate to your peers and the assessing panel what you have devised, why you did it in this way and how it will work. Your exhibition may also include a demonstration or discussion.
Here are examples of what you might include:
Your exhibition could also include additional resource materials such as author information, websites, audio/video/computer-based materials etc. Please note, however, that the exhibition will be assessed on the quality of the thinking behind it, not the quantity of resources compiled!
Criteria for assessing the exhibition will be negotiated and the lecturer will design a feedback sheet that reflects the agreed criteria. This assignment is designed to help you build your professional portfolio, as it should provide good evidence of your ability to design a practical classroom resource which is based on sound learning principles. It will also provide evidence of your ability to work collaboratively and to communicate your ideas effectively to others.
In small groups the students discussed and listed the criteria that they felt would constitute a good exhibition. We shared and categorised these, developing them finally as the following list:
The rationale for your text and lessons provided a clear sense of purpose and drew on your understandings of language and literacy learning.
Your main teaching and learning activities were appropriate, well designed and coherently linked.
Activities showed variety, flexibility, creativity and innovation.
Activities were likely to develop children's skills and understandings, particularly in the areas of comprehension, communication and higher order thinking.
Care and effort had gone into the presentation of your work, so that it reflected good professional standards.
Your demonstration was informative, engaging and interesting.
Your work was well structured, with clear links between the rationale, activities and assessment.
Lessons and resources were practical, user-friendly and realistic for the classroom.
Overall, your exhibition and demonstration communicated your ideas effectively to others.
Listed below are some of the comments from student exhibitors about what they had gained from the experience:
The sharing of ideas and building up of a bank of resources was great. Everyone was very positive and supportive.
I liked the chance to work through and set assessment criteria with the lecturer.
Exhibitions are a good way to assess what we know - I felt more involved and had more freedom to be creative. I'll definitely try this type of assessment with my classes.
Working together was a bonus. We need to be able to do that as well as independent work. We also have some good resources plus photos for our portfolios.
As I'm sure you're aware, this is a fairly tame instance of reform. The exhibition I designed fits comfortably within existing course and university guidelines, and really offers the students relatively limited choice and responsibility. What would happen, I wonder, if I were to hand over control in a more radical way? Could I simply say to my second year class, "find an effective way of showing me what you've learnt about children's language development"? Would I be comfortable with videos, taped examples and commentaries, dramatic performances? (yes) ... and what about cartoons, models, song lyrics? (well...) I would be very interested to hear the views and experiences of other university teachers.
Education Department of Western Australia (1998). Curriculum Framework for Kindergarten to Year 12 Education in Western Australia. Curriculum Council.
Spencer, B and Angus, K. (1998). Demonstrating Knowledge: The Use of Presentations in the College Classroom. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 41 (8).
|Please cite as: Hogan, C. (1999). Using exhibitions to share and assess student learning. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 158-161. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/hogan-ca.html|