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Dogfooding

Mira Vogel18 July 2017

For my project I interviewed pairs of students and assessors discussing their experiences with assessment in various digital modes including blog, website, video and podcast. These are the forms students’ work can take as they are asked to make their first steps in conceptualising an audience beyond academia.

Again and again I heard students express the view that the primary need of their audience was to be engaged, to have their interest kept. ‘Eating your own dogfood’ is a slang term for using your own product or process to test or promote that product or process. I decided early on in this project that dogfooding would be to make my final report using the kinds of digital tools and abilities we increasingly expect students to deploy, posting the outputs somewhere I could build an audience and count the views and links. I would need to monitor the time I spent on this, though. As an investment in my skills, would it be a good one? I heard about many students whose interest, pride and/or determination led them to put in far more effort than their tutors required – but if I were a part time student with kids and a job, could I manage this? In any case, would these be the kind of skills I would use again soon enough to remember them? Compared to typing out a text report which, as altmetrics are beginning to reveal, chances are hardly anybody would read, would it have more impact? I have heard from a tutor who didn’t participate in my project because he had abandoned assessing student media, that unless students can see how their effort builds skills which will help them in future endeavours, they are reluctant to spend their time this way.

With this in mind from the beginning (and enabled by the total impossibility of anonymity in my project) I video-recorded the conversations with the intention of editing them into thematic films of no more than 3 minutes each, which I would cut with screenshots or footage of the students’ work. I have made three of these videos so far, and find they have striking benefits I hadn’t really grasped before. Unsurprisingly, because they include non-verbal cues – including the other parties in the conversation – they are immensively expressive compared to typed-out quotations. They are engaging, and this invites longer excerpts than I would get away with if I typed out the quotations. The ability to edit in excerpts from different interviews with illustrative footage and stills from students’ work has two major advantages: one is that it sustains engagement and the other is that it allows me to communicate the theme in question more succinctly and elegantly through my selections, sequencing and other editing decisions than I could with words. Having typed no end of widely-ignored verbal reports, I am hopeful about reporting in this way (and after all, this is not new – ask anybody involved in teaching documentary film making in UCL Anthropology).

All that said, this approach brings new challenges. One is the kit. I wanted to restrict myself to the kit students tend to have already, namely a phone and iMovie. In fact I succumbed to buying a gorilla grip (because I already had a camera phone mount and my existing grip broke and what’s the point then of having the mount?), and then ended up using an old phone to take a second higher-quality sound recording. I succumbed to buying a portable light because I really wanted to light interviews in darker rooms and then, because the light made my participants squint, deployed a portable light diffuser which I’d noticed in the Arena Centre kitchen. My department paid for an educational licence for video editing software. I could have claimed all this back but students wouldn’t have that privilege. If I had been a student my relative wealth would have placed me at a potential advantage (and managing this level-playing-field factor comes up in the discussions).

There are ethical challenges too. I obtained consent to record but by remixing these discussions what I am doing here is basically taking out of context, or making new context. Of course we do this in typed form but for the reasons above, these videos are more impactful, especially where they juxtapose contrasting views. Trust is important – I have a duty to leave my participants as willing to participate in future projects as they were before they encountered mine – and this kind of very rich, expressive, attributable quoting seems to imply new levels of consent. So my consent form promised that participants would have the chance to check the films, and were free to withdraw at any time. Nobody has raised any problems so far but I am still in the thick of making videos and sharing them with the relevant people via OneDrive, which is why I can’t post my videos quite yet.

However, I did get consent to show the ones I’ve made so far at the recent Connecting Higher Education conference at UCL, where the feedback I received included “enchanting” and “outstanding evidence”. Not the kind of response I tend to get for my 20-pagers.

Here, for now without the videos, is the presentation visuals including plenty of images and quotations. Need this bigger? Here’s the link to the original.

Wikipedia as a worldly learning environment

Mira Vogel9 December 2016

Wikipedia – the encyclopaedia anybody can edit – is one of the most influential, multilingual sources of information in the world. Editing Wikipedia is a very Connected Curriculum friendly pursuit, often requiring students to knit their contributions into an existing community of interest. As well as subject knowledge, encounters with other editors often require students to draw on their sensitivity and powers of persuasion, expressed in discussion about edits on each article’s Talk page.

As well as being a fertile site for assessment, Wikipedia is also labouring under a marked gender imbalance.  Women make up about one in six of the biographical articles on the site, and there are relatively few women editors.

Yesterday marked the beginning of a worldwide campaign to represent more women on Wikipedia. On BBC Radio 4 Today, Thursday 8th December (start at 2 hours 48 minutes), at  Lucy Crompton-Reid, Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK explains  how Wikimedia reflects the bias to men in primary sources and editing and proposes ways to address this. Over on her blog, Professor Alison Littlejohn introduces her research into the transition people make to become Wikipedia editors.

If you or your students are editing Wikipedia, I’d love to hear from you. Or if you’re interested in setting up an editing activity, there are several colleagues and students in UCL with experience to help.

Authentic multimodal assessments

Mira Vogel7 October 2016

Cross-posted to the UCL Digital Education blog.

My Connected Curriculum Fellowship project explores current practice with Connected Curriculum dimension 5 – ‘Students learn to produce outputs – assessments directed at an audience’. My emphasis is on assessing students’ digital (including digitised) multimodal outputs for an audience. What does ‘multimodal’ mean? Modes can be thought of as styles of communication –  register and voice, for example – while media can be thought of as its fabric. In practice, though, the line between the two is quite blurry (Kress, 2012). This work will look at multimodal assessment from the following angles.

What kinds of digital multimodal outputs are students producing at UCL, and using which media? The theoretic specificity of verbal media, such as essay or talk, explains its dominance in academia. Some multimodal forms, such as documentaries, are recognised as (potentially) academic, while others are straightforwardly authentic, such as curation students producing online exhibitions. At the margins are works which bring dilemmas about academic validity, such as fan fiction submitted for the From Codex To Kindle module, or the Internet Cultures student who blogged as a dog.

How are students supported to conceptualise their audiences? DePalma and Alexander (2015) observe that students who are used to writing for one or two academic markers may struggle with the complex notions of audience called for by an expanded range of rhetorical resources. The 2016 Making History convenor has pointed out that students admitted to UCL on strength of their essays may find the transition to multimodal assessment unsettling and question its validity.  I hope to explore tutor and student perspectives here with a focus on how the tasks are introduced to students. I will maintain awareness of the Liberating the Curriculum emphasis on diverse audiences. I will also explore matters of consent and intellectual property, and ask what happens to the outputs once the assessment is complete.

What approaches are taken to assessing multimodal work? A 2006 survey (Anderson et al) reported several assessment challenges for markers, including separation of rhetorical from aesthetic effects, diversity of skills, technologies and interpretation, and balancing credit between effort and quality where the output may be unpolished. Adsanatham (2012) describes how his students generated more complex criteria than he could have alone, helping “enrich our ever-evolving understanding and learning of technology and literacies”. DePalma and Alexander (2015) discuss written commentaries or reflective pieces as companions to students’ multimodal submissions. Finding out about the practices of staff and students across UCL promises to illuminate possibilities, questions, contrasts and dilemmas.

I plan to identify participants by drawing on my and colleagues’ networks, the Teaching and Learning Portal, and calls via appropriate channels. Building on previous work, I hope to collect screen-capture recordings, based on question prompts, in which students explain their work and tutors explain how they marked it. These kinds of recordings provide very rich data but, anticipating difficulties obtaining consent to publish these, I also plan to transcribe and analyse them using NVivo to produce a written report. I aim to produce a collection of examples of multimodal work, practical suggestions for managing the trickier areas of assessment, and ideas for supporting students in their activities. I will ask participants to validate these outputs.

Would you like to get involved? Contact Mira Vogel.

References

Adsanatham, C. 2012. Integrating Assessment and Instruction: Using Student-Generated Grading Criteria to Evaluate Multimodal Digital Projects. Computers and Composition 29(2): 152–174.

Anderson, D., Atkins, A., Ball, C., et al. 2006. Integrating Multimodality into Composition Curricula: Survey Methodology and Results from a CCCC Research Grant. Composition Studies 34(2). http://www.uc.edu/journals/composition-studies/issues/archives/fall2006-34-2.html.

DePalma, M.J., and Alexander, K.P. 2015. A Bag Full of Snakes: Negotiating the Challenges of Multimodal Composition. Computers and Composition 37: 182–200.

Gunther, K. and Staffan Selander, S. 2012. Multimodal Design, Learning and Cultures of Recognition. The Internet and Higher Education 15(4): 265–268.

Vogel, M., Kador, T., Smith, F., Potter, J. 2016. Considering new media in scholarly assessment. UCL Teaching and Learning Conference. 19 April 2016. Institute of Education, UCL, London, UK. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/events/conference/2016/UCLTL2016Abstracts; https://goo.gl/nqygUH