The key assessment of a module 'Within and Beyond Books', taught by Dr Valentina Abbatelli, is a creative digital project that requires students to design a new edition of a book using dedicated publishing software and reflect on that process in a more traditional written essay. Constituting 70% of the final mark for the module, this assessment is preceded by a shorter assignment requiring students to write a close analysis essay, comparing two or more editions of one book of their choice among those discussed in class. As part of the assignment and alongside a 1000-word reflective piece, the students are required to fully design the cover of the front and the back of the edition, prepare a blurb, and write a 1000-word preface. Since some students are more familiar with publishing software than others, they are mostly marked based on the intentionality and strength of their creative choices, rather than their aesthetic execution, which makes this a much less threatening task for students who are less confident in their technical skills. This type of assignment is extremely effective, since it involves students in the practical aspects of work that they are only usually required to engage with critically, thereby promoting a deeper understanding of the subject and helping them develop transferable, interdisciplinary skills.
Valentina Abbatelli, SMLC
Module: IT337: Within and Beyond Books: Theory, History and Practice (2021)
- The tutor first prepares their student for the assessment with a shorter task of a more traditional format. This task must introduce the students to the theoretical aspect of the module, which would later help them with the practical assessment. In the case of Valentina Abbatelli's course on book edition paratext, the first task was a 1500-word essay (30% of the final grade), where the students had to write an analysis of two or more editions of a book of their choice among those covered in the module by that point.
- The second assessment, which is a digital project where students are invited to apply their theoretical knowledge of the subject in practice, must be introduced well in advance to give the students enough time to prepare for the technical aspects of its completion. In Valentina's course, the students were offered technical support throughout the time in which were expected to work on the digital project; they were also issued a short document written by the IT about the software they were invited to use (i.e. Microsoft Publisher). The tutor must consider the specific features of each piece of software they consider recommending to their students, as well as its availability on various devices.
- In Valentina's course, the assessment itself comprises the following: the digital rendition of the chosen book's design (complete with the cover, the publisher's information, the blurbs on the back, etc.), a 1000-word preface, and a 1000-word reflective essay. To make sure that students are graded on their subject-relevant knowledge, rather than technical skillset alone, the tutor marks their work in relation to its intentionality and theoretical coherence, as demonstrated in the reflective essay in conjunction with the digital work itself.
What I wanted to do in this module is to use digital pedagogy in the assessment... With the digital assessment, they managed to learn, or at least to use, a publishing software to do this.
I think it was a very good way to test [the students'] knowledge, but at the same time to allow students to use creativity in the assessment, which is not something that is always possible. And, I think that, in a way, it also tests knowledge in a different, and probably more accurate, way than a classic type of assessment, especially in this kind of module.
It was a way to really understand that [the students] had understood what the module was about. ... And it is much more fun for students, and also for teachers, to mark this type of digital assessment than a classic essay.