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Pedagogy 7.3 (2007) 544-555

Toward Criteria for Creative Assessment in the English Honors Degree Program
Lesley Coote
Fiona Wright

In April 2006, we began the Criteria for Creative Assessment project in the humanities department at the University of Hull, supported by the English Subject Centre.1 The project's ultimate objective was the development, testing, and dissemination of valid, reliable, and transferable criteria that would enable the use of creative and innovative assessments by a wider community of English studies practitioners within the higher education sector. The overall imperative for this project, and much other work of a similar nature, lies ultimately in the U.K. government's application of "market forces" to higher education.2 The fulfillment of marketplace demands requires the measurement, monitoring, and delivery of the academic equivalents of quality and price/value, and the means to compare one department, one institution, even one module, with another. Anxiety about standards in general, allied with a policy based upon freedom of choice for parents and students, has led to a regime of testing in the U.K. secondary education sector (ages 11 to 18), which researchers have discovered to result in the breakdown of productive relationships between pupil and teacher at presecondary levels.3 Assessment is an obvious means of measuring quality in a degree program, but writers in this area of educational expertise are careful to stress that this must be seen as part of a student-centered "educational" experience. Madeleine Atkins (1995), for example, writes of the "general educational experience of intrinsic worth to the student," of which assessment should form a part. Other factors in this intrinsic worth to the student include employability and skills transfer. This is particularly important in higher education institutions such as the University of Hull, the majority of whose government funding is learning- and teaching-based; that is, they obtain most of their funding in respect of the numbers of students registered rather than in large-scale research funding.4 A significant (and increasing) proportion of the student body is drawn from the local area, which is one of low overall achievement educationally (Hull has a low position in the U.K. government's "league tables" for examination passes at sixteen and eighteen years old). [End Page 544]

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One of the ways in which U.K. educational researchers and tutoring staff at U.K. universities have attempted to embrace the need for qualitative measurement while maintaining and enhancing the "educational experience" is by examining new methods of assessing learning.5 In response to our own inquiries, one of the problems with the implementation of creative and innovative methodologies in assessment most frequently raised by practitioners in higher education is that of criteria; how can these be valid and reliable enough to counter anxieties about "dumbing down"? Initiatives in this area have been largely conducted in disciplines other than those represented on this project team; we are based in history, English, and film studies.6 Dr. Coote has been instrumental in introducing virtual learning environments and the concepts of blended learning into English studies and has lately been pioneering the use of student- and tutor-authored digitized materials in the classroom and in assessment. Her two modules containing an element (up to 50 percent of the module mark) of creative assessment, involving the use of still images and student authoring of digitized material, have been part of the single honors English curriculum at the University of Hull for the last five years. Evidence collected from her students over this time has demonstrated continuously that almost all students, including those with learning challenges such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, and both low and high achievers, perform better (some very much better) when offered a variety of assessment methods. These assessments have always been supported and scaffolded by means of a virtual learning environment (VLE) and blended learning methodologies.7 One of the main premises of her work is that the higher education experience needs to recapture the "pre-Secondary school experience...


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