April 11, 2022

Creative Projects and the ‘state of play’ in diverse assessments – Lewis Beer

As a member of the newly formed ‘Diverse Assessments’ Learning Circle in WIHEA (led by Leda Mirbahai and Isabel Fischer), how have you engaged with this topic during your time in Higher Education, and are there any lessons for the future?

Back in 2015, while teaching on a Shakespeare module in Warwick’s English Department, I worked with several students who chose not to write a standard academic essay, but instead to submit a Creative Project – for instance a painting, an animated film, a screenplay – accompanied by a reflective essay. Students were advised to centre their project on a clear research question, and were also told that the project would be assessed not for its artistic quality but for its achievement ‘as a piece of intellectual exploration’.

None of this was my idea, and frankly it made me nervous. But when I saw the students’ creative outputs and accompanying reflections, and read the feedback my colleagues gave them, I could see the unique benefits of this assessment method. One student, Amy Brandis, produced a 55-minute documentary called Lady Macbeth: From Stratford to Stage. She sourced A/V equipment, enlisted the help of students, staff, and people outside the university, and developed filming and editing skills to a high standard. She also reflected incisively on the intellectual exploration entailed by this process. Amy has since pursued a career as a writer, film-maker, and script consultant. For students like her, the Creative Project opened up types of intellectual discourse, and levels of insight, that fall outside the scope of a ‘standard’ essay. It also enabled students to explore topics in a way that fed into their broader development goals: not just academic development, but also personal and professional.

Five years later, compiling the Student Innovation at Warwick report during my time in Warwick Enterprise, I spoke to over 120 colleagues across 33 departments about the myriad ways in which Warwick students can ‘engage with innovation’. One way is through innovative pedagogy, and especially through non-standard modes of assessment that encourage students to be creative and take risks. Not only in the English Department, but also in Engineering, Psychology, History, and many others, academics model the risk-positive mindset they want to foster: it’s no mean feat to overcome the administrative and pedagogical challenges of creating new assessment schemes, getting them approved, and introducing them to curious but anxious students. In my current role, supporting Warwick’s involvement in the EUTOPIA Alliance, I see this spirit of pedagogic experimentation playing out on an even larger scale. It’s wonderful that there is so much interesting work being done in this area, but more than a little overwhelming.

The WIHEA-funded project we will carry out in the ‘Diverse Assessments’ Learning Circle, between now and the end of 2022, is an opportunity to explore these issues more deeply, and with a sense of focus that makes the exploration feasible. The Learning Circle members are now pooling their knowledge and experiences to understand the current ‘state of play’ regarding diverse assessments at Warwick. We look forward to consulting a wider range of staff and students to understand the benefits and challenges of diversifying assessment schemes, and to help shape Warwick’s future vision regarding diverse assessments.

There’s still room for more people to join our circle! For further information, please contact the co-leads: Leda Mirbahai, Warwick Medical School (WMS) (Leda.Mirbahai@warwick.ac.uk) and Isabel Fischer, Warwick Business School (WBS) (Isabel.Fischer@wbs.ac.uk).

Link to blog one: Interested in diverse assessments?

Link to blog three: A Student Perspective on Assessment Diversity and Strategy


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