Do you struggle under the pressure of written exams? Then prepare yourself for some welcome news. In every faculty at UTS, students are increasingly undertaking authentic non-traditional assessments. The idea is to set realistic assessment tasks that relate to how students will use what they have learned in their future careers. And so far, the move has been a win-win, for the students and their teachers.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – Newsday
From the very first day of class, UTS journalism students are thrown out of their comfort zones and into the role of real-life journalist.
“It’s super challenging; crazy challenging,” says first-year journalism student Dylan Crismale. “But also lots of fun.”
Last teaching session, Crismale undertook the subject Stories from the Streets: Local Journalism, Social Media. In the subject, students research, produce and edit original news stories to deadline, publishing on basic content management systems to deliver work each week. They also work in real-time, pop-up newsrooms during Newsday and live-blog news during events, like the 2016 Federal election.
“For Newsday everyone operates out of the pop-up newsroom where the tutors/editors assign stories for the day, unless you have specific locations or early events in which case they send you out to location straight away,” Crismale says.
“Newsday runs for the whole five days in one week and we all have a certain number of hours to cover each story. Everyone covers a range of stories – finance, sport, medicine et cetera.”
One of Crismale’s jobs was to cover an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into an alleged fraud of funds from the Aboriginal Land Council. “We were able to take notes in the space reserved for media and were afforded the same courtesy and assistance as working journalists, so it was really eye-opening about what it’s like to be a journalist out in the field.”
And when it comes to landing a job, Crismale says that’s a real plus. “If we didn’t have the practical experiences at uni and we just did theory all the time you’d be totally lost when you got out into the field, because you’d have no idea what you were doing.
“These kinds of assignments really set you up to put things into practice.”
Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building – Animated trailer
In the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building’s subject VC Design Studio: Design Practice, students work on real-world design briefs and prepare for employment by developing a personal visual identity and professional portfolio.
Last teaching session, visual communication student Kathy Ngo undertook the subject and an assessment to create an animated book trailer for The Many Selves of Katherine North – an upcoming sci-fi novel from Bloomsbury Publications. As an added bonus for students, Bloomsbury would select two of the trailers for commercial use.
“At first, I had very little knowledge about motion graphics and I was quite frustrated,” admits Ngo. “But I set myself a goal to win the competition.
“I spent a huge amount of time researching and developing my techniques and design concepts. In the assessment, we had a chance to practice professionalism – how to present the design concept and design outcome to clients – and it was super helpful for me in my future career.”
And in the assessment Ngo's work was ultimately one of the two chosen by Bloomsbury to promote the book.
“Interestingly, when I applied for internships right after finishing this assessment, the HR teams were more impressed with my animation than other works,” says Ngo. “It was a truly amazing experience. With this motion graphic, I got a chance to intern at a big company that I never even dreamed I could.”
Faculty of Law – Mock constitutional law case
UTS law students have found their degree to be as dynamic and engaging as the legal profession itself.
In the Constitutional Law subject, students take on the roles of lawyers, arguing their clients' cases in response to a specific set of facts. Earlier this year, the subject required students to break into groups and act as the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Attorney-Generals of New South Wales and Victoria and lawyers for two individuals and the Human Rights Commission in a mock case about a young man facing terrorism charges.
Second-year law student Ben Rice stepped up to act as the Attorney-General of Victoria. He says, “The assessment was part of an evolving scenario. Every week a different group would get up and present a part of the scenario and answer questions you would normally address in a court setting.
“I was representing the state of Victoria as an intervenor in the dispute and my part of the scenario was addressing whether Victoria had any standing to appear before the High Court in a matter that didn’t necessarily involve anyone from Victoria.”
It’s a scenario that, Rice says, closely mirrors how lawyers work in the real-world, and how constitutional law can impact all other areas of Australian law – tax, family law, torts or contracts.
“Constitutional Law is a really big subject with a lot of material to be covered. This assessment definitely broke that up and forced you to engage with elements of the subject that could otherwise be quite tedious to go over in a rote-learning sort of way.
“It was really interesting to be able to test out the theoretical elements of constitutional law in a real-life scenario and to actually have the chance to get up and argue a standpoint.”
Faculty of Health – DIY art
In the Graduate Diploma of Midwifery, students are creating paintings, drawings, embroidery, board games and even cakes to show how they understand course content.
For the subject Midwifery as Primary Health Care, student Jessica Bolitho chose to create a piece of music, a process that got her thinking “more about building relationships and rapport with women and the journey we are involved in.”
As well as the academic side of the assignment (students were required to write an essay explaining their reasoning behind each creation), Bolitho enjoyed the opportunity to de-stress through the remedial side of art-making.
“Having us, as students, getting our creative juices going was such a good idea,” she says.
“Both nursing and midwifery are careers where you need really good, hands-on experience, but also to have a constant, open and non-judgmental mind.
“It definitely made me think and appreciate the fact that no one woman is the same and social determinants and vulnerability can definitely impact on the way we provide care.”
Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology – CHOICE user testing
Civil engineering student Anjali Warsapperuma, has been involved in an interesting task this session in Physical Modelling for Engineering Students. The subject, which sits within the Faculty of Science, is a first-year core subject designed for and offered only to first-year engineering students in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology.
In this subject, students work in groups using their knowledge of physics to test and compare properties of different brands of everyday household products. These include things such as hair dryers, kettles and dishwashing liquid; all of which had previously been tested and featured in CHOICE magazine.
The assessment enables students to develop important skills in research, time management and teamwork.
Warsapperuma says, “Other, traditional, assessments involve learning concepts and undergoing assessments that directly tested our knowledge. However, the lab program allows us to apply those concepts in order to validate our results.”
The task, she says, “provides insight into the expectations of an engineer in the industry”. In fact, for the assessment, students were required to detail their results in the form of a consultant’s report.
Warsapperuma says, “As an engineer providing innovative solutions to a problem, it’s important to understand the correlation between physics concepts and the real world. The new physical modelling lab program encourages students to adapt theoretical concepts when reporting their findings and providing recommendations, portraying the real work of engineers.”
UTS Business School – Screencast
Over in the UTS Business School, in the Accounting for Business Decisions A subject, students are swapping seats with staff for their screencast assignment.
In this assessment, first-year students are tasked with choosing one accounting concept then creating a three-minute screencast (a digital recording of a computer screen, usually with audio narration) to teach it to other students.
The results were surprising, says business student Steven Luu.
“It was actually very different. No one expected an assignment like that for accounting because you’re just so used to calculations and numbers on top of numbers.
“Out of nowhere, to do a video, that’s kind of fun! At first I was sort of intimidated, because I’d never really done any video editing,” admits Luu. “But I became something of an expert in PowerPoint.”
And for Luu, the assignment offered another bonus – helping students pass a subject, which has, in the past, had a high failure rate.
“As a U:PASS leader in the subject, I was able to suggest my video to students to help them quickly recap and understand the topic that was relevant to them. It also provided the students with an idea of how to approach the assignment themselves.
“It's a great feeling knowing that an assignment I have completed over a year ago can still be relevant and such great help to other students today!”
Faculty of Science – Professional Practice Points
In several of the Faculty of Science’s subjects, organisational, interpersonal and work-based skills are the key to getting good marks.
The Professional Practice Points assessment is completed weekly, in the Chemistry 1 and Chemistry 2 subjects, alongside practical in-class activities. For this, students write reflections on their own ability to complete practical tasks, and they receive feedback from a class supervisor.
Bachelor of Science Bachelor of Business student Massimo Bedoya undertook the assessment in Chemistry 1 last year.
“At the end every prac, we had to log onto the online self-assessment tool REVIEW and fill out few fields about our communication and conduct in the lab,” Bedoya explains.
“There was an ascending scale from one to four. It was based on competencies – ‘not evident’, ‘developing’, ‘competent’ and ‘exemplary’ – so you had to slide an indicator along the scale to show how you think you did and leave comments about your performance in the laboratory. The teaching assistant would do the same thing and give you a score and feedback so you could see how, and in what areas, you could improve during the teaching period.”
It’s this real-time feedback that, Bedoya says, is the most beneficial part of the assessment.
“Because of the feedback, you get to see what you’re good at and what you need to work on. In an exam, you don’t get any opportunity to improve because your classes are already over.
“It’s also not as high-stress as other assessments because you complete it on a week-to-week basis, not all at once. And if you plan to work in a scientific field, and publish papers, the peer review process means you need to get used to receiving lots of feedback.”