Coursework assignments, but not as you know them…
First of all: a big congratulations to all Warwick student and staff for having crawled to the end of Term 2, and safely arrived into the blissful (if slightly stressful) five week long Easter holidays. With exams fast approaching (only forty days until my first Oral exam, yikes) most students are enjoying the weather whilst attempting to stay above the mountains of revision, coursework deadlines, and the word count of their dissertation. The fact that we’re still in lockdown only adds to the chaos…
I thought I would talk about the different assessments that I’ve done at Warwick today, simply because I’m very close to submitting the final piece of coursework for my degree, and the nostalgia is already welling up inside me. Not that I’m particularly nostalgic for the process of creating my assignments, but I suppose it’s just another sign that the degree is coming to an end. Naturally, I can only speak for the School of Modern Languages and Cultures and the Language Centre for the different assessments I’ve experienced, but I think the variety that I’ve had is reflective of other departments, and the direction the university is heading towards for the future. I should also say these assignments are usually for my cultural modules, as language modules tend to be straight grammar, listening, speaking, essay writing exams. Saying that, let’s get into it!
You know the drill. The traditional argumentative essay, usually about a specific topic or piece of literature with a question that likely includes “to what extent”” or “could it be said that?” and a looooong bibliography. Depending on how long the module lasted and how much the essay counted for the final grade changes the word count, but essentially, I’ve either done:2X 2,500 word essays = 100% of my final grade OR a 4,500 word essay = 100% of my final grade.
This is of course subject to department rules, and could change, however, the written essay has been the most common way to assess my modules, and it means you can get lots of practice and lovely marks. Also, teachers have set these essays for YEARS, so they’re always on standby to offer advice.
This is an assessment I’ve only been set in my final year, but I think are becoming more common as professors try and diversify their module without destroying students with whacky assessment methods. It’s like a GCSE English Literature essay with lots of analysis and fancy words to describe things. I’ve written commentaries for both film and literature modules, but what is great is that I’ve found lecturers are really eager to help people who feel less confident with literary/ film analysis. After all, its probably been a while since people have talked about caesura.
The nice thing about a commentary is that they are relatively short, with my two this year being around 1,000-1,250 words, but they only take up around 20/30% of the module grade. The rest of the module is usually supplemented with a traditional essay, so it’s also nice to do some close analysis before delving deep into whatever question you’ve chosen for your essay.
I’ve had to do this twice for my Spanish language module in first and second year. An E-Portfolio is essentially an online blog/ portfolio of different assessments that have been set throughout the year, which I have created on a website called myportfolio. I realise this sounds quite vague, and to be honest, both of my portfolios have been quite vague, as I think the department tried to encourage creativity by not offering strict rules. In both years I’ve had at least two semesters to work on the portfolio, as well as some feedback sessions.
In first year the general theme of the E-Portfolio was how I personally went about improving my Spanish. We had to include some sections about our virtual exchange (essentially a penpal) with Colombian students and a reflective diary entry which was marked in term one, but other than that, it was pretty liberal and had no word count. With the software you can insert clips, images, colours, etc so it was definitely a task where the more you put in, the more you got out.
In my second year it was a bit more guided, with three clear sections and word counts. We had to discuss two films, and how they portrayed linguistic interaction; we had to choose one of seven titles, and write a creative piece about it (mine ended up being a rather weird parody of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, with a post-dystopian Cartagena), and we had to do some close analysis of two books which we had read throughout the year.
All in all, the E-Portfolio was an interesting assessment, but a lot of people didn’t appreciate how long it was. The conundrum was that it only counted for 15% of the final grade, but also, we had a whole year to do it. I think it came down to the more effort you put in, the better the mark was overall, but I’d be lying if I said I was sad I didn’t have an E-Portfolio this year.
Little bit whacky I know. This came about through my Russian culture module, which was part of my language centre class this year. As a finalist languages student studying Russian with the language centre, I’ve been able to spend an hour a week learning about the cultural side of Russia as part of my language module.
It was a pretty broad module, with lots of different lectures and topics, so it was natural that the assessment was also quite flexible. Students in my year could choose to do a traditional essay (1,500 words), a five minute presentation, or a 6 minute video essay about whatever topic they wanted that related to Russia. Having done some editing before, I chose the video essay as it meant I could develop more skills and have some fun with the assessment. Also, it was only 15% of my final module grade, so I felt I could be a bit risky. I chose to talk about the cultural impact of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a novel which revealed the horrors of the gulag system to a post-Stalin USSR. It’s a little heavy, but nice and short so I recommend giving it a go. It’s certainly easier to swallow than it’s longer counterpart The Gulag Archipelago.
A video essay is essentially a traditional essay, only instead of quoting sources, you find clips of other people speaking about your question, and edit them in to your video, in between the voiceover. I think video essays are becoming more common, because they require the same level of analysis and research, but just different presentation. I also got lucky as there was a film of the book, so I could use clips from that to spice the video up. All in all, it was quite a long process, and I probably spent more time on it than I would an assessment which was worth more, but it was quite enjoyable. I learned how to edit, sound mix, subtitle, and record a voiceover, so it was all rather fun.
Over the course of my degree I’ve noticed how module leaders are trying to diversity their coursework assessment methods, with video essays appearing more and more. I also know of some students who proposed doing a video essay instead of a traditional written one, and received approval. I’ve also heard of assessments where students had to make a fake wikipedia article, write a blog, paint a reflection of their experience…. And so on. This reflects how university is developing and moving away from traditional methods of education and assessment, which is great. Of course, I’m yet to actually receive the mark, so if it goes badly I may come back to edit this post, advising you all to never commit to a video essay.