Once upon a time, in a not so distant era, university students were given assessments to complete that required them to regurgitate disseminated lecture material with little opportunity to demonstrate creativity, originality, or innovative thinking. Assessments were handed in at the end of term as a meltdown mountain of panic and stress loomed. These assessments were often rushed, held little value to the students submitting them and were, most likely, never looked at again by the students. It almost felt like a tick-box exercise.
Thankfully this fairy tale is not yet over and is taking an exciting turn. Fast forward to 2022, and the advent of a new era of more active and creative assessments has begun. The focus on assessment has fueled a renewed interest in looking at exactly what we are asking students to do and why. What value is this particular task going to be to students going forward? How are we going to make the process of learning enjoyable? How can we draw on student experience to enrich their learning and ours? In trying to answer these questions, we found ourselves increasingly breaking down large assessment goals into a series of smaller tasks that required students to actively go and explore, create and innovate, which is where the idea of active assessment arose. Far removed from the days of students passively regurgitating lecture content back to us, active assessment involves students thinking outside of the box and drawing on their own experience to make links with new content.
One example is the active essay writing project. This project breaks down the task of producing a good quality written response into a series of stages, each of which facilitates student creativity and innovation. For example, in Stage 1, rather than simply regurgitating a lecture or frantically googling an entire essay title to find relevant literature, students are encouraged to start with their own ideas and thoughts around a key question. In doing so, we ask them to imagine having a conversation about that question with another person, and to think about the sort of points, questions, and debates that might arise.These ideas are then presented as a collage, enabling students to put their artistic mark on this initial stage of the assignment. They may not want to take all of these ideas forward but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is to give students the opportunity to draw on their own experience, respecting the diverse perspectives they might bring to their work, to develop confidence in their own ideas, and to be creative in their presentation of these. By the time they get to stage 2, where they search the academic literature, they already have some ideas to start with which enables them to enter more specific search terms into the search engines, guided by their own independent thinking, that they will use as a starting point for this part of the process.
While this only covers the initial stages of Active Essay Writing (for more see links below), hopefully it is clear how even traditional assessment types, like essays, can quickly become more active and engaging for students, and in turn, enable them to engage with something personally and academically valuable, starting with their own experiences and thoughts and using these as a way into the academic literature. However, this is only one example. In our Tweetchat, we look forward to exploring the idea further, looking at the backdrop, benefits and barriers to this idea further. We welcome you to the discussion…
Wendy Garnham is a Reader in Psychology at the University of Sussex and is a National Teaching Fellow. She is also the co-founder of the Active Learning Network, an international award-winning collaborative network for anyone interested in active learning. Wendy also co-hosts both the monthly SEDA Transitions Community of Practice meetings and the SEDA Teach Meets every Tuesday. Currently, Wendy is the Director of Student Experience for the Foundation Year Programmes at Sussex.
Heather Taylor is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She is also a member of the SEDA Transitions Community of practice and is the Head of both Widening Participation and Attainment in Psychology and the Recruitment and Schools Outreach Officer in Psychology at the University of Sussex.
Links to resources
- Find out more about the active essay writing project in our book chapter or in our recent blogpost.
- Take a look at Sally Brown and Kay Sambell’s awesome collection of authentic assessment resources.
- Why is it so important to draw on student experience in assessment? Bevitt, S. (2015). Assessment innovation and student experience: A new assessment challenge and call for a multi-perspective approach to assessment research. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(1), 103-119.
- For an interesting read about the importance of creativity in assessments: Matraeva, A. D., Rybakova, M. V., Vinichenko, M. V., Oseev, A. A., & Ljapunova, N. V. (2020). Development of creativity of students in higher educational institutions: assessment of students and experts. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 8(1), 8-16.
The wakelet is posted here.