For her final-year History module ‘Whiteness: An American History’, Dr Lydia Plath split students into groups to complete a student-designed applied assignment, comprising 40% of the overall module mark. Students were tasked with creating something that could educate their chosen audience on the history of Whiteness in America but how they chose to do this was up to them. Although not all students chose to do digital projects, many completed digital assignments which included podcasts, Instagram feeds and websites. Students also submitted a short essay explaining why they had chosen their formats, who their chosen audience was and how they hoped to engage with them.
The aim of the applied assignment was to encourage students to think about how they can communicate with and influence the public, and many of them sought to do this using digital tools. This ties in with the activist focus of the module as it got students to think about how what they learned on the module could be utilised to further anti-racism, and as the students were finalists, they were afforded the freedom to decide how best to do this. The focus on student-centred learning and co-creation also tied in with the broader anti-racist pedagogy of the module and Dr Plath’s teaching.
- Dr Plath put students into groups. The groups were random but engineered for diversity and, as many of the students had previously completed a similar group podcast project for the second-year module ‘America in Black and White’, Dr Plath ensured that there was at least one person from the previous module in each group.
- Students were provided with some guidance on the module’s Moodle page, but due to the openness of the applied assignment it was important that this not be too formulaic.
- The students did not require a significant amount of technical support as they tended to choose formats with which they were already familiar.
- Tabula was modified to accept any file type, although there were some issues with uploading large files. Some students had to be inventive when submitting work, for example submitting a pdf of screenshots of an Instagram feed or a video scrolling through the feed. Alternatively students could submit a word document with a link to their webpage or social media feed.
- While students were under no obligation to make their work public, they did have to ensure privacy settings were configured to allow access for external examiners.
Students needed quite a lot of reassurance. Students often asked ‘are you sure this okay? Can I really do this Instagram stuff? Is that really academic work?’
[The students] all put a huge amount of effort in…I did worry that they put too much effort in for the amount that this was worth…so that’s something to be aware of that they can get a bit carried away.
[One] thing we didn’t have a chance to build in this year was how could they access each other’s [projects]. We had a little bit of sharing ideas but I think [the students] were just interested in what each other had done so [it’s worth] thinking about how you can share that work in class.
Some students slightly lost track of the academic nature [of the project], that this was an assignment… [students] did say that they were having so much fun doing stuff on Instagram that they lost track of some of the theoretical underpinnings.