How Macquarie University Uses Video Assignments to Develop and Extend Students’ Communication and Digital Storytelling Skills
Enrolments doubled this year for ‘The Archaeology of Death and Burial’ course at Macquarie University. Associate Professor Ronika Power, Lecturer in Bioarchaeology at the University, suggests that the introduction of media assessments into the course – teaching students how to use media to tell stories about their learning in archaeology – could be why.
While still recognising the importance of the written essay, the Faculty of Arts at Macquarie University is seeking to revolutionise the way that students communicate knowledge, understanding and experiences. This team believes that the world the students will be entering is going to require creativity and critical thinking, as well as engagement with multimodal technologies for communication – and these skills need to be developed during their time at university and feature in the assessments that they undertake.
Dr Power says that, in previously only assessing student learning via written form, “we were only catering for a proportion of our student population and therefore excluding some people from the discourse, and that’s not okay with me.” She continues, “Any modality that excludes more than it includes is not reflecting the kind of sensibilities we are hoping to represent. We’re hoping to blaze a trail in that sense and quite literally go where no ancient historian or archaeologist has gone before.”
According to Associate Professor Panos Vlachopoulos, Associate Dean for Quality and Standards within the Faculty of Arts, the goal for the next two years is to incorporate student digital media assessments into every degree program within the Faculty of Arts.
“Through the simple act of creating a video, students learn how to project themselves,” says Dr Vlachopoulos, “They learn how to become storytellers and how to brand themselves. They develop skills that go far beyond their academic discipline.” He believes that it is critical for the Faculty of Arts to teach communication skills that make students marketable and recruitable outside of university life.
In the process of rewriting the curriculum for the humanities, Macquarie University has worked closely with employers and recruiters to look at the skills required for the workforce of tomorrow, so that students develop skills far beyond their academic discipline.
In addition to expecting students to create media content for assessment, Dr Vlachopoulos currently teaches an undergraduate course of 1,000 students where he uses video to share assessment feedback. He feels strongly that the students respond more readily to this feedback as they hear his personality in the video and know that he is speaking directly to them.
Hear from Dr Panos Vlachopoulos:
Michael Rampe, Senior Learning Designer in the Faculty of Arts, led the team in applying for an Echo360 research grant to support the media assessment trial in ‘The Archaeology of Death and Burial’ course. He explains that this project was an important trial for the university, and that it was critical to look at a discipline that had no traditional relationship to media.
“We looked at the end to end ecosystem necessary for this type of pedagogy to be successful in this trial; all the way from how academics plan assessments, to how they develop their learning outcomes, to how they help their students make the media assessments and importantly, how they deliver them.”
Mr Rampe acknowledges that the push to spread digital media assessments is not as simple as a successful pilot. “I think it would be folly to assume that students are all going to love it just because it is digital, that’s not the case. Most students are digital consumers, not digital creators, and they need scaffolding and teaching just like any other task.”
Hear from Mr Michael Rampe:
He adds, “We’re going to have to put in support mechanisms such as training programmes and quick little web-based resources to help people learn as they go. The pilot was important to be able to look at strengths, weaknesses and objections so we can be prepared, and we can provide appropriate professional development to our staff.”
Advice from Mr Rampe for anyone thinking of using media assessments, “Don’t overdo it, especially with students in the first years, and think about how you’re going to assess it. We’re not assessing the video output necessarily. We assess the teamwork, the script, the ability to reference, so the actual end result of the video is an artefact of those things rather than the only evidence.”
Jacinta Carruthers, sessional Academic and Research Assistant for the Faculty of Arts, took on the task of writing the research paper (to be published in the coming months) and found that one of the many unexpected benefits was that students were willing to share their videos with their peers in ways they do not with written assessments.
Hear from Ms Jacinta Carruthers:
As an aside, Ms Carruthers also notes that an unexpected outcome of using video as a major piece of assessment is that it is more resilient to plagiarism and academic misconduct than a more traditional written assessment.
The research highlighted that, while the lecturers were eager to trial media-based assessments, they felt some concern over developing their own technical skills and then being able to teach and assess it, especially with their already busy schedules. This was reflected in how they approached the assessments. Ms Carruthers notes, “Close to 90% of educators chose to let students self-select the software and hardware that they wished to use, and so the majority of it was actually self-taught by the students, with only a few academics actually teaching the technology themselves. They supported students by bringing in a number of our learning and teaching designers to assist with the implementation of the technology through the delivery of guest lectures and offering focus guides.” The research has resulted in a proposal from this team to the University that students are offered a stand-alone media creation course in first year that will help to take the pressure off both lecturers and students who are participating in media assessments.
Ms Carruthers found that those lecturers using the Echo360 platform reported it to be smooth and streamlined as well as an effective platform to store and manage student assessments. “What we saw through this research data is that the University really needs a universal platform and Echo360 is that platform. It’s already embedded in our learning management system and so what we really want to see is for this to be universally employed across the University in regards to media based assessments.”
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