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Authenticating Assessment through the Video Essay: A Pilot Case Study

Within the Higher Education sector there is an increased focus upon authentic assessment where learning outcomes are conceived in terms of their “real world” relevance (Boud & Soler 2016). Authenticity can also be understood in terms of creative
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  By erinwiegandOctober 12,2019 Authenticating Assessment through the Video Essay–APilot Case Study /authenticating-assessment-through-the-video-essay-a-pilot-case-study/  JCMS Teaching Dossier   Vol 5 (3) Not Another Brick in the Wall: TheAudiovisual Essay and Radical Pedagogy Sean Redmond and Joanna Tai, DeakinUniversityWithin the Higher Education sector there isan increased focus upon authentic assessment where learning outcomes are conceivedin terms of their “real world” relevance (Boud & Soler 2016). Authenticity can also beunderstood in terms of creative activity and criticality, where what is learned andassessed relates to the individual’s unique imagination and to their understanding of thepower relations that operate in society. The video essay can be argued to fosterauthenticity in both these senses, uneasy bedfellows as they are. [1]In this paper we look to address both these definitions of authentic assessment,outlining the findings of a pilot research project with third year undergraduate studentstaking the Celebrity Industries: Star Images, Fan Cultures and Performance unit, at DeakinUniversity, Melbourne, in 2018. The unit belongs to the generalist BA Arts degree, withstudents coming from a diverse range of academic backgrounds including, film andtelevision studies, digital media studies, psychology, marketing, education, law, andsociology. 182 students took the unit, of which 55 were solely enrolled online, in our“Cloud” classroom. For their first assignment, the students were required to make a fiveminute video essay and accompanying 750 word exegesis: details can be found in  Appendix One .The research developed in response to the authors’ desire to promote and investigatethe notion of learning authenticity, and because the unit in question, with its focus oncelebrity, lends itself to the creative and critical underpinnings of the video essay. The 1/13  research sought to answer these entangled questions: first, how might use of the videoessay as a mode or tool of learning improve students’ educational experience? Second,how do students view it in comparison with written forms of assessment? Third, is it seento have “real world” relevance? Finally, how does the video essay work as an empoweringassessment item within the communication and creative arts disciplines?A mixed methods or “fusion” approach was used to collect the data. This was done tofavour “triangulation” or “multiple operationalism” (Fiske, Campbell, 1959), and openedup the way the data was collected and analysed. Following Denzin (1978), the projectdrew upon triangulation in three ways: the data sources it drew upon included students’responses to questionnaires, a focus group, and the assessments themselves; severaldifferent researchers worked upon the study; and multiple perspectives and theorieswere utilised to interpret the data, which was comprised of both qualitative andquantitative responses.The research involved two phases. First, students were invited to complete a voluntaryonline, anonymous questionnaire, after the video essay assignment had been submitted,and the marks had been returned. The questionnaire was designed to elicit responsesfrom “first impressions” to final outcomes, taking students through the essay’sproduction process. Thirty-seven students responded. Second, students were invited to aone-hour focus group, at the conclusion of the unit, on the Deakin Burwood campus:three students attended. The focus group was organised around questions that exploredthe learning experience in relation to planning for, and producing, the video essay. Forquantitative data, summary statistics were calculated in Microsoft Excel. Qualitative datawere inductively coded by both researchers: codes were grouped and themed in relationto the research questions we outline above. Ethical approval was sought and gainedfrom the Deakin University Arts & Education Human Ethics Advisory Group, applicationHAE 17-004. See Appendix Two for the questionnaire and focus group questions . Authenticating the Data In relation to the project’s research question, “How might use of the video essay as amode or tool of learning improve students’ educational experience?”, we found that itwas generally perceived as a positive assessment option, being “a unique opportunity,”“interesting and refreshing,” and “a fun way to explore our topics.” One cluster of responses focused upon the creativity the essay fostered, with variants of the wordbeing used thirty-five times to describe the learning experience. In total, 66.67% of ourrespondents indicated they would choose it over a more traditional form of assessmentsuch as a research essay or report. One respondent wrote, “it allows for creativeness,and gives me something to include in a portfolio for future use/employment use.” Theconceit that the “product” can be used to show future employees relates to the sensethat the video essay did, for some at least, lead to “real world” outcomes.However, researching and preparing for the video essay was seen as challenging (29,78%) but also rewarding (24, 65%). Similarly, the technical process of making the videoessay was seen as both challenging (25, 68%) and rewarding (26, 70%), descriptions very 2/13  often used in the same response. Reasons for this included the open-ended nature of the task set, finding resources, editing skills, and the lack of student video essayexemplars (this was only the second cohort to take the unit). However, the very fact thatstudents had to exercise both their creative and critical autonomy resulted in quite deeplevels of learner satisfaction, with respondents using such words as “thinking outside thebox,” “being engaged,” and “learning new skills.” The majority of students also thoughtthe video essay format allowed them to demonstrate their skills and knowledge (25,68%). This form of authenticity is one where, as David Lusted writes, and the editors of this dossier quote in the introduction, “knowledge needs to be conceived as produced inexchange,” with “all agents in its active production conceived as producers” (1986).In terms of whether our respondents largely affirmed the video essay to be anempowering form of knowledge generation, answers tended to favourably compare it tothe traditional written essay (4), or for the way it fostered and enabled creativity throughmulti-media work, seen as particularly relevant for creative arts courses. As onerespondent wrote, “As a student of Communications & Digital Media, a video essay inconjunction with an exegesis is an opportunity to create media, present ideas anddevelop thinking in a way relevant to my degree.”The value of the accompanying exegesis produced quite diverse responses: a smallnumber felt “nervous” (2), while others wrote that it was an “interesting new aspect” (4).The question of translation also emerged, with students worried about repeating ideas inthe video, with others recognising its value to extend and enrich upon their creativework. 27 responses (from 33), or just over 81% indicated that they felt the exegesiscomplimented their video essay, commenting, for example, “I believe it does as while itcan offer points covered in the video in shorter form it also can provide different aspectsregarding the video topics as well.” The conjunction between making-thinking, creative-writing, seems to ultimately offer our respondents a positive and self-affirming learningexperience. What we would now like to do is explore some of the creative workproduced on this unit: a type of “show and tell.” Show and Tell: Authentic Creativity The video essays produced during this pilot certainly suggested an opening up of criticalenquiry through creative experimentation. The authorial voices of the students wereclearly sounded out, lessening and resisting the strictures of the traditional essay form.For example, two respondents wrote: 3/13  It allows for more creativity in presentation—instead of writing an essay for the 10000thtime, I was able to craft a creative presentation using clips, music, photos and voiceovers,and I found the process to be more enjoyable.As much as I struggled with making my video essay, I think they are a really new andinteresting way to learn and explore topics. I really feel traditional essays are kind of outdated, and I personally can’t stand having to sit down and read 10 pages of academicwriting, knowing that I’m not even understanding most of it. I also really love the freedomof being able to work outside of the usual structures and rules that come with essaywriting’.(Q13: Why would you prefer that form of assessment) The video essays employed such techniques as montage, the supercut, irony, soundexperimentation, juxtaposition and datafication strategies to move fluidly across criticalideas and to evidence argument through the very materiality of the subject beingstudied. This conjunction between form and content, creativity and analysis, is seen toauthenticate the relationship between thinking and making, leading to an enabling formof praxis where what one does is “informed by theory and also…theory informed bypractice” (Williams, in Johnson et al., 2004, 90). As one respondent wrote, “In conjunctionwith the exegesis, the entire body of work can be viewed as a complete understanding of a topic.”We found that three types or genres of video essay were made. First, the voice-overmontage essay, with still and moving footage threaded in and around a case study or keyquestion that the student was answering. The voices here were often both scholarly andaffective, their investment in the work coming through tone, pitch and timbre. Therewere numerous examples of empowered feminist readings of star figures, particularlyfrom female students clearly taking up a position in the discourse. See:, video essays in which the student engaged in direct camera address, with stilland moving image inserts used to evidence their arguments. The direct address itself took three forms: performative, in which the student took on a role, such as the“larrakin” when analysing Australian celebrity; journalistic/analytical, where the studentassumed the role of a commentator; and fan-driven, in which the student spoke fromthe position of a fan, often with a set design that illustrated this (such as a Doctor Who–inspired scene). This form of embodied personalisation both sets in train professionalcues, such as the role of “investigative journalist,” and critically mirrors the self-as-brand.See: 4/13  Third, there were text/written driven videos, built like a traditional essay, separated intothree clear parts—introduction, main body, and conclusion—with inserted written textproviding anchor points as the essay progressed. These essays were of course audio-visual equivalents to the written form, where students perhaps retreated to the safety of argument-led analysis. Nonetheless, they immersed their analysis in the poetics of themoving image, using the very materials of film/video to hear and see  analytical thinking.See: we have found is what we would like to define as authentic creativity, framedthrough a liberating praxis, where making and thinking opened up new possibilities forlearning, for assessment, for the “media stylo” of the twenty-first century. Conclusion: Press Play The findings of this pilot project are limited by the sample size, and the meagre uptake of the focus group option. Further, on reflection, the design of the questionnaire fell intothe often default position of asking “rating” and “evaluation” teaching-type questions,rather than the more important issue of addressing authentic learning in relation to thetask-in-hand. Nonetheless, in response to our research questions we identified four mainfindings. First, the majority of students favoured the video essay as an assignmentoption. Second, they affirmed its unique ability to offer both creative and critical learningopportunities. Third, students were seen to value this praxis-led form of assessmentabove traditional forms, including the long form written essay. Finally, In terms of careeror work relevance authenticity, students perceived the video essay as being transferableand translatable—the median student rating (out of 10) was 8 as an assessment for theunit, and 7 in relevance to their current studies and future work situations.The intention is to extend this pilot to other courses and to refine our methodology. Forexample, we could utilise an “audio diary” where students record their experience fromfirst impression to last. Further, we could look to hold focus groups, in situ, at the end of the last class, and to re-imagine their content and form. For example, the focus groupcould be peer-led, lessening the chance that students feel obliged to be positive whenfaced with their teachers.Authenticating assessment is a complex issue: authenticity can be seen as related tostudent-led learning and real world outcomes; and to the more radical idea of creativecriticality, where imagination is loosed upon the world, and argument and analysischallenges the status quo. In this research, we have brought together these bows of critical and creative autonomy, and the shared learning experience that leads to so-called real world outcomes. Notes 5/13
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