How do you make assessment criteria more student-centred? Co-create it with the students…

The last time I set an assignment for students in my class, I did something different. I explained to the students that in this assignment they would be demonstrating conceptual development through the use of sketchbooks.  This part was not new. Students have always created sketchbooks in these particular undergraduate Change Makers modules.  In these modules, the students research a case study and then use a sketchbook to develop their designs or art work related to that case study.

The new part was that students would help me define what an excellent sketchbook was. They would co-create the assessment criteria with me. When I explained this to the students, I saw jaws drop.  I thought I had better repeat: –

‘Yes, that’s right, you will tell me what would constitute an excellent sketchbook.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘We’re going to talk about what would make a fantastic sketchbook and what would demonstrate conceptual development.  From that, we’ll write a list of criteria to evaluate them with’.

We discussed the importance of showing development of ideas – including iterations of designs, experimentation with different colours, shapes, forms etc.  And then, I asked students to decide amongst themselves what they would expect to see in a sketchbook for it to demonstrate impressive conceptual development.  They had a discussion and wrote down a list of characteristics. The list was actually very similar to the criteria that I had used the previous year, and with very minor adjustments I used it to evaluate and grade their work.

In the work they produced I was pleased to see that they did duly experiment. They documented it too – for instance, with a focus on particular colours in their artwork:-

And adding one colour to otherwise monochrome images:-

Others developed design ideas, with more and more detail…

One student produced a sketchbook with exploration of techniques and styles to represent the concepts of fear, outsiders and community:-

It was very pleasing to see their improved conceptual development and their demonstration of their creative process.  I concluded that asking the students to help design the assessment criteria had had a noticeable positive impact on their work.

My reflections on why co-creating the evaluation criteria was successful

On reflection, I don’t think it was the slightly-different evaluation criteria that stimulated a change in the sketchbooks this year. Because the criteria we produced were very similar to previous years. Rather, with the students’ involvement in the production of the criteria, I noticed more discussion amongst the students about the criteria whilst they were doing the assignment.  They appeared to be more invested in the task and also more focused.  It therefore wasn’t a surprise when the final sketchbooks demonstrated more development of ideas too.

More focus on ‘process’ 

In previous years, students have produced good work. However, the focus of their sketchbooks has been more on product than process. In practice this has meant that students often submitted sketchbooks with a number of design or art ideas, written or sketched out to their best of their ability.  But what I wanted to see was more evidence of their personal thought process, including more variety of ideas, more experimentation.

I wanted to see a process of creative thinking evidenced by the students – because by encouraging documentation of the processes they went through, it would be easier to evaluate students’ work – for me and for the students’ themselves. And, through the improved capacity to reflect on their own work, their learning should improve too.

In addition, focusing on process when assessing creativity avoids the problems of assessing the product. A product may be something that has been simply recycled, adapted, or recalled. This can be creative, but not necessarily deserving of a top grade, depending on the type of adaptation involved. To make a better judgement we need to know how the idea for the product emerged (Cowan, 2006: 159).   To evaluate creativity we need to have insight into the creative process.  

Finally, I think the products – the students’ art and designs – were more original.  I am confident that the students’ awareness of their creative thought processes and conceptual development will help them create better products in future too.  So, based on this experience – involving students in the creation of assessment criteria is certainly something I would advocate, and something I will be doing again!

References:

Cowan, J. (2006) ‘How should I assess creativity’ in Jackson, N., Oliver, M., Shaw, M., and Wisdom, J. (Eds.) Developing Creativity in Higher Education – An imaginative curriculum. Oxon: Routledge. PP. 156-173.

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