Alternative Assessments and Multimedia

I’ve been lucky to witness a new wave of inspired, progressive (or perhaps simply bored) instructors experiment with multimedia production as a form of summative assessment over the past couple of years.  For a long time, it seemed multimedia-production-as-assessment was only a viable option for technology-based courses with both access to media production tools and skills-driven curricula.  Perhaps due in part to the consumer electronics industry’s penchant to continuously roll out newer, shinier, cheaper toys and software specifically targeting what was once considered a population of technology illiterates, or perhaps because consumer technologies seem to be ever occupying every possible space in our professional and personal lives and the lives of our children, or even PERHAPS because education and psychology research has bent enough policy makers’ ears towards the theory that people actually learn differently , there seems now to be a critical momentum of instructors who are at least open to the idea of moving away from traditional forms of assessment and embarking into the vast abyss that is creative expression.  This is a good thing.  For many reasons.  Least of which is that, despite what some complain as a lack of emphasis on content, media production can touch on a number of learning objectives (e.g., collaboration, demonstration of competence in a specific domain, skills-development and acquisition, higher order thinking, etc.) while enabling students to try on new identities, explore different voices, and connect to their socio-historical selves.  Of course, media production doesn’t cause these outcomes. But it can do a lot to make these potential outcomes accessible to students.

All that being said, even the most gung-ho teacher will face possibly the biggest challenge standing in the way of instructional media production’s ubiquity in the education toolkit: assessment.  If the point of alternative assessment in general, and media production in particular, is to offer students a flexible, adaptive way of engaging with- and demonstrating knowledge for a topic, then one must often come to grips with a grading system that is rigid, high-stakes, and completely unindividualized.  Creative expression is, almost by definition, the antithesis of such a system.  Hence, the bane of all my instructional experience: the rubric.  Rubrics, and complicated, time-consuming to draft (especially if you plan to have a different rubric for each assignment), and can be confusing – even abstract – for students.  Actually, I’m sure they are confusing and abstract for most teachers.  But simply put, if media production is a valuable activity for students’ learning development, equally important is providing detailed, explicit feedback on students’ work.  I found a link to this rubric for a digital storytelling project at the University of Houston (it wasn’t hard to find – it was the first link that came up in a Google search for “digital storytelling rubric”), which stands out as an excellent example of what I’m talking about.  On its face, the rubric seems vast, with several criteria for evaluation, and a sophisticated checklist detailing everything from the project’s purpose to the student’s choice of production software.  But herein lies the value of this particular rubric: it leaves room for flexibility, decision making, and expression, yet clearly outlines any expectations, assumptions, and learning objectives.  Attributing a numeric value to each of the categories (though unsavory to those of us already opposed to the rigid constraints of the score-based grading system) maintains both the integrity of the evaluation, and lends an element of objectivity to a subjective exercise.

Of course, the use of a rubric doesn’t eliminate any of the other hiccups and roadblocks that disrupt the always smooth process of integrating technology into instruction, but in my experience, it has been a good touchstone for those teachers who might feel a little uneasy about taking their first steps into media production.


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