As part of the final-year English & Comparative Literary Studies module American Horror Story, Professor Stephen Shapiro and Dr Mark Storey used group video essays as an assessment tool comprising 20% of the overall module mark. Students worked collaboratively in groups of 4 to 6 to create short video essays of up to 6 minutes in response to a keyword chosen from a provided list related to the conceptual and thematic currents of the module. Responding to a keyword rather than a text pulled students out of their comfort zones and encouraged them to think more creatively and conceptually. Video essays were assessed solely on the level of critical analysis, which meant that students were not prevented from getting top marks by lack of access to technology or digital proficiency. However, Professor Shapiro and Dr Storey also found that students were able to produce exceptionally creative video essays.
One of the key aims of the video essay assessment was to encourage students to think collectively and work collaboratively and for this reason it was important that students received a collective mark for their video essays. Allowing students to pick their own topics and titles was important for helping to close the attainment gap, thought to be in part due to a lack of freedom given to students to write about what matters to them. Lastly, the video essays taught students transferable skills around visual literacy, which is of particular importance for many students looking to work in journalism, publishing and other digital arts.
Professor Stephen Shapiro, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dr Mark Storey, English and Comparative Literary Studies
- Professor Shapiro and Dr Storey placed students in groups of 4-6.
- Students were provided with a list of 8 possible topics related to the key themes of the module, for example ‘the uncanny’, ‘the grotesque’ and ‘hauntology’.
- Alongside the list of possible topics, Professor Shapiro and Dr Storey provided students with a comprehensive marking criteria, instructions for submitting their video essays, and tips for producing effective video essays.
- Students were instructed that using a phone or tablet camera would be sufficient and pointed to where they could access video equipment from IT Services for those who did not have phones or tablets.
- Students were expected to spend no longer than 1 week on their videos, which could be in the form of original scripted content or a video essay interrogating clips from other videos, as long as these were cited.
- Students submitted their essays by sending Professor Shapiro and Dr Storey a link to their videos via Warwick’s cloud storage, DropBox, or any other cloud storage. Alternatively students uploaded their videos to YouTube or Vimeo and provided a password-protected link. Students also uploaded a submission statement to Tabula, where they also received their mark and feedback.
Students are very good at picking up what they should be doing and repeating it and that has increasingly become a problem for the essays. So one of the things that has unexpectedly shone through the digital techniques was that because they had not been taught that in school, it actually allowed them to do more scholarly work than the essay because they didn’t have that template in their mind of what they should be doing.
The anxiety which attends assessment is going up and up, so when you throw something into the mix which they’re not very well practiced at some of them do find it very anxiety-inducing. So not attaching too much of the module mark to it helps, it allows them to do something which they can enjoy… the actual process of doing it is more important than the outcome. We don’t want students to be traumatised by the first attempt to try something new…we want to encourage students to take risks with the implied contract that we will not punish taking risks.
This project comes at the end of second term and gives students a chance to work collaboratively with the other students they have been taking the module with, it would be much more difficult to set a group project at the beginning of the year.
Examples of student work
How does "the uncanny" present the horror of black American experience in Atlanta's "Teddy Perkins"? by Emily Crudge, Maddie Gray, Eamonn McKeon, Isobel Snailham, Katie Stokes and Evianne Suen.