Dr Madeleine Davies, Department of English Literature firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2017 I replaced the exam on a Part 3 module I convene (‘Margaret Atwood’) with an online learning journal assessment and I was so impressed with the students’ work that I sought funding to publish selected extracts in a UoR book, Second Sight: The Margaret Atwood Learning Journals. The project has involved collaboration between the Department of English Literature and the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, and it has confirmed the value of staff-student partnerships, particularly in relation to celebrating student attainment and enhancing graduate employability.
- To showcase the achievements of our Part 3 students before they graduate and to memorialise their hard work, engagement and ingenuity in material form
- To demonstrate at Open Days and Visit Days the quality of teaching and learning in the Department of English Literature in order to support student recruitment
- To create a resource for students enrolling on the module in future years
- To encourage reflection and conversation in my School regarding the value of diversified assessment practice
The ‘Margaret Atwood’ module has always been assessed through an exam and a summative essay but I was dissatisfied with the work the exam produced (I knew that my students could perform better) so I researched alternative assessment formats. In 2017 I replaced the exam with a Blackboard learning journal because my research suggested that it offered the potential to release students’ creative criticality. I preserved the other half of the assessment model, the formal summative essay, because the module also needed an assessment where polished critical reading would be rewarded. With both assessment elements in place, students would need to demonstrate flexible writing skills and adapt to different writing environments (essential graduate skills). A manifest benefit of journal assessment is that it offers students to whom essay-writing does not come easily an opportunity to demonstrate their true ability and engagement so the decision to diversify assessment connected with inclusive practice.
I decided to publish the students’ writing in a UoR book because I did not want to lose their hard work to a digital black-hole: it deserved a wider audience. I sought funding from our Teaching and Learning Deans, who supported the project from the beginning, and I connected with the ‘Real Jobs’ scheme in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication where students gain valuable professional experience by managing funded publishing commissions for university staff and external clients. This put me in contact with a highly skilled student typographer with an exceptional eye for design. I asked a member of the ‘Margaret Atwood’ group to help me edit the book because I knew that she wanted to pursue a career in publishing and this project would provide invaluable material for her CV. Together we produced a ‘permissions’ form for students to formally indicate that they were releasing their work to the publication and 27 out of 36 students who were enrolled on the Spring Term module responded; all warmly welcomed the initiative. Contributors were asked to submit Word files containing their entries so as to preserve the confidentiality of their online submissions; this was important because the editors and designers were fellow students. Throughout the Summer Term 2018, the students and I met and planned, designed and edited, and the result is a book of which we are proud. With the sole exception of the Introduction which I wrote, every element of it, from the cover image to the design to the contents, is the work of our students.
The impact of the project will be registered in terms of Open Days because Second Sight will help demonstrate the range of staff-student academic and employability activities in DEL. In addition, the project has consolidated connections between DEL and the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication and we will build on this relationship in the next session.
A further impact, which cannot be evidenced easily, is that it provides a useful resource for our graduates’ job applications and interviews: students entering publishing or journalism, for example, will be able to speak to their participation in the project and to their work in the book. The collection showcases some excellent writing and artwork and DEL graduates can attend interviews with tangible evidence of their achievements and abilities.
Producing this book with such talented editors, designers and contributors has been a joy: like the ‘Margaret Atwood’ module itself, Second Sight confirms the pleasures and the rewards of working in partnership with our students.
The project sharpened my own editing skills and created a space to share knowledge about publishing conventions with the students who were assisting me. We all learned a great deal from each other: June Lin, the Typography student designer, gave me and the student editor (Bethany Barnett-Sanders) insights into the techniques of type-setting and page layout. To reciprocate, Bethany and I enhanced June’s knowledge of Margaret Atwood’s work which she had read but never studied. This pooling of knowledge worked to the benefit of us all.
One of the advantages of the learning journal was that it allowed me a clear view of the inventiveness and ingenuity that students bring to their work, and my sense of appreciation for their skill was further enhanced by working with students on the book. Technically, this was less of a ‘staff-student’ collaboration than it was a mutual education between several people.
The process we followed for acquiring written permission from students to include their work in the book, and for gathering Word files to avoid confidentiality issues, was smooth, quick, and could not have been improved. The only difficulty was finding time to edit seventy-five contributions to the book in an already busy term. Whilst this was not easy, the results of the collaboration have made it well and truly worth it.
It is too early to tell whether other DEL colleagues will choose to diversify their own assessments and pursue a publishing project similar to the ‘Margaret Atwood’ example if they do. There is, however, a growing need for Open Day materials and Second Sight joins the Department’s Creative Writing Anthology to demonstrate that academic modules contain within them the potential for publication and collaborative initiative. I will certainly be looking to produce more publications of this nature on my other learning journal modules in the next session; in the meantime, copies of Second Sight will be taken with me to the outreach events I’m attending in July in order to demonstrate our commitment to student engagement, experience and employability here at the University of Reading.