What happens when you let students choose the format of their assessment, (while strongly encouraging them not to produce a traditional written assignment)? You get very different, surprising, enjoyable work to grade… But most importantly, you make the work motivating for the students and improve their sense of self-efficacy!
On June 8 2022, Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux led a workshop at the Association québécoise de pédagogie collégiale (AQPC) symposium. They explained how, in the context of a course they teach in Performa’s microprogramme de 2e cycle en insertion professionnelle (MIPEC) [in French], they let students choose the format of their evaluations.
All of their students are expected to meet the same expectations (e.g., to present their reflections on the relationship between school and society), but can choose whether they want to do so through:
- an audio recording (podcast)
- a commented conceptual map
- a website, a blog or an interactive presentation
- a magazine
- a comic book or a photo comic
- an animated or a narrated presentation
- a Pecha Kucha
The only limit is their imagination!
According to Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux, this assessment strategy would apply well to college students.
Note that Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux required that each assignment, regardless of its format, be accompanied by a written bibliography (in Word or PDF format).
Some of the chosen formats
Some students chose to make an audio recording (a podcast).
By recording themselves orally, students who have more difficulty with writing have one less barrier. When a student records without a script, the medium allows teachers to “hear the person think.” This may make the discourse long-winded, but also rich.
The informality of many audio recordings can make it more difficult to assess language quality. In “informal” podcasts, one cannot necessarily assess language quality in the same way as in writing.
Commented concept map
The 1st times that Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux let their students choose the format of their assessment, they had a little trouble correcting the productions of those who had chosen to make concept maps. Indeed, it can be difficult to correctly interpret the student’s thinking, to “find the student” through the concepts presented in a concept map.
To rectify this, beginning the next session, the teachers asked students who would be making a concept map to add a comment about each concept. This comment can be written or recorded orally.
Website, blog or interactive presentation
Comic book or photo comic
Other students produced comics, freehand or with Pixton.
A student produced a photo comic from animal photos he had taken. (An amateur photographer, he had a series of photos of foxes to which he added text balloons).
A student who teaches Fire Safety Technology acquired a collection of Playmobil firefighter figures. She staged them and photographed them, then added text to the photos.
Animated or narrated presentation
Certain students created animated videos [in French] (cartoon style), among others with Powtoon. The free version of Powtoon only allows you to produce videos of less than 3 minutes, which can be more than sufficient!
Others created a narrated slide show with PowerPoint or recorded a presentation with Prezi video [in French].
Some students chose to take on the challenge of creating a PechaKucha. A PechaKucha is a presentation format during which one person speaks while showing 20 eye-catching images (without animations) in succession, for 20 seconds each.
The “unclassifiable” ones
One person created a virtual game board (somewhat similar to a virtual snakes and ladders game). She recorded herself playing a game, commenting on what happened to her in the course. (The course was a metaphor for the themes targeted by the evaluation.)
A student sang (in tune!) while recording a dubbing for the video of the song Beauty School Dropout from the movie Grease (!!!)
In general, students loved the assessment format of the course.
One student called it an “eye-opener,” another called it “very challenging.” Yet another wrote that the assessments were “very appropriate and enjoyable to do.”
One person described initially feeling like she was “jumping in the deep end,” but ended up loving the experience.
Another person emphasized the fit of the course with universal design of learning. She also wrote that after experiencing such an assessment method as a student, she would definitely replicate it in her own teaching practice.
However, at least one student said that he did not enjoy the experience very much, explaining that he expressed himself better “through a conventional Word document.”
Technical tips for students
Émilie Doutreloux and Stéphanie Carle provided their students with a list of digital tools that they could use at no cost to produce their work (including those named in this text: Sway, Prezi, Powtoon, etc.).
Students are free to use other tools than those listed, but it is important to insist that they make sure that the tool they choose will allow them to share their work with the teacher. Some tools are available in a free version that does not allow exporting or sharing of productions. This is problematic when, on the day of submitting the work, a student realizes that they have worked for hours on something that cannot be presented to the teacher…
To facilitate the evaluation process
Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux suggest that students be given a 20-minute time limit for assessment formats that must be listened to or viewed (to prevent the correction from being too long).
During the workshop, they said that teachers must take steps to avoid the bias associated with the halo effect. It can be easy to be dazzled by the fun factor or beauty of a piece of work and to be tempted to give a higher score to assignments that is not justified by the content. The key to avoiding this pitfall is a detailed evaluation grid that focuses on the skill being assessed, not on the form the student has chosen.
A correction grid to guide students
A descriptive evaluation grid is also useful to guide students. By showing it to them in advance, you can give students a clear understanding of what they will be assessed on. This gives them an orientation, even though they are given (nearly) complete freedom in choosing the format.
During the 1st session of implementing this evaluation practice, some students found the correction grids too vague. Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux therefore readjusted them for subsequent cohorts.
While grading, in addition to completing the descriptive grid, Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux provide the student with personalized global feedback (a commentary) on their work.
Prior to the submission of assignments, students can form feedback groups. Group members see each other’s work and give feedback to each other. This helps them submit the best possible work for the summative assessment.
A strategy that leaves little room for plagiarism
This method of evaluation has the advantage of being associated with a very low risk of plagiarism, because:
- formats are varied and the “classic” text format is not encouraged
- students (who teach at the college level) must draw on their individual professional experiences to inform their productions
Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux’s decision to let their students choose the format of their assessment is linked to their intention to combine learning and fun and to increase student motivation.
This is a sustainable evaluation strategy, since the same instructions can be reused from year to year without any real risk of plagiarism.
It is also an inclusive assessment strategy, as each student can choose a format that meets their needs.
This strategy is part of a positive psychology perspective. According to Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux, the strategy has a positive effect on students’ sense of self-efficacy and encourages them to continue their university studies.
Have you tested a similar strategy with your college groups? If so, in what context? Were the results as positive as those of Stéphanie Carle and Émilie Doutreloux? Share your story with us in the comments section!