Symposia 2

  • Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice - 10 Years on

    Title:Assessing Group Practice  

    1. Cordelia Bryan & Debbie Green
    2. Steve Dixon & Jackie Smart
    3. Tom Maguire

    1. Central School of Speech and Drama
    2. University of Salford & King Alfred's College, Winchester
    3. University of Ulster

    Session: Symposium  

    Themes addressed:
    Learning and teaching methods
    Skills development and lifelong learning 


    Assessing Group Practice One of the greatest changes in higher education over the past 10 years has been the increase in student numbers necessitating some radical revision to how we assess our students. Despite many improvements in assessment practice which draw on constructivist pedagogic theories of learning (Baxter Magolda, 1999), there has been relatively little research into how we assess group practice.

    Our research revealed that many tutors would like the idea of dedicating a protocol mark specifically to successful collaboration, although few managed this in reality (Bryan, 2001). Similarly, there was a general desire to allow more time and space for collaborative projects. What tends to happen in reality in many cases is that collaboration is a required strategy for learning (whether in rehearsal and/or performance) rather than an object of assessment in its own right. How well students co-operate, compromise, or negotiate to find creative solutions to problems will affect the final outcome. However, we appear to make little or no distinction (in terms of marks) between those who positively influence the process and those who do not, or who may even affect the process negatively. These team skills, which are so highly prized for life-long learning and sought in applicants by many employers, are often not accredited within HE.

    This collection of papers arises out of a three-year consortium project, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England's (HEFCE's) Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL). The papers explore collaborative activity within the performance arts with a view to identifying methods of assessment which can be demonstrated to be fair, robust and practicable both within and outside the sector.

    The three papers explore 
    a) the importance of group formation on student learning; 
    b) the discourse of assessment: language and ethics in the assessment of group practice; and 
    c) how reflective practice can enhance group work.

    The consortium's research has been informed by some fundamental constructivist pedagogic theories of learning: 
    a) that assessment should build student self esteem and strengths 
    b) that students take an active part in their own and their peers' assessment 
    c) that assessment should be more flexible than is the norm in many UK institutions, ideally allowing for student development in their own time 
    d) that assessment should value process as much as product and generally allow more room for student diversity 
    e) that ideally assessment methods (particularly in the performance arts) should be capable of rewarding risk-taking and legal rule-breaking or surprising, unconventional solutions to specific 'problems'.

    All three papers identify and address a range of issues that can contribute in making the assessment of group practice problematic. They draw from a collective pool of research data which explores students and staffs experience of the assessment of group practice and offer some solutions which may be of interest to colleagues both within and outside the performance arts.

    Bryan, C. (2001) Assessing Group Practice unpublished project report. 
    Baxter Magolda, Marcia, B. (1999) Creating Contexts for Learning and Self-Authorship, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville.

    Abstract: 1
    How guided reflective practice can enhance group work in the performing and creative arts

    Authors: Cordelia Bryan Principal Lecturer and Project Director of Assessing Group Practice, Central School of Speech and Drama Debbie Green Movement Tutor, Performance Department at Central School of Speech and Drama

    'I developed the notion that community could be a practice, rather than an entity. It is something about the responsibility of the individual to the whole group. By responsibility I don't necessarily mean taking care of the whole group it is more like each person in the group having a commitment to the individual experience of every member of the group, including themselves'. 
    Jackie Adkins

    Within the performing arts, collaboration is, and has always been, common practice. Working together to create a cohesive whole is the very nature of what drama, dance and music is about. However, in higher education we have not fully capitalised upon the invaluable collaborative skills which performance arts students acquire through their study. Furthermore, these group skills are rarely defined precisely and consequently, seldom awarded academic credit. 
    This paper explores how group skills might be assessed in different contexts, focusing particularly on reflection as the means for students to record and assess their contribution to the group process. 
    Drawing on existing theories of reflection on learning and field research from Assessing Group Practice, the paper explores some of the difficulties associated specifically with assessing group processes and outcomes. Reflection for purposes of this paper also encompasses planning and thinking about where one is going, before assessing and evaluating how well one achieved the objectives.
    Assessment is defined in its broadest sense to include feedback of any sort (i.e. oral, written, self, peer and tutor generated) as well as actual grades allocated to groups and individuals. In order to determine fitness for purpose, fundamental questions are revisited such as: Why are we assessing? What are we assessing? How are we assessing? Who is best placed to assess? When should we assess? (Brown, 1999) 
    Our research revealed that whilst we rarely teach the theory of team building as such, there is ample evidence that performing arts students do acquire team skills. The paper advocates that the time to foreground collaborative skills, to define them and understand their importance (with a view to accrediting them) is during the reflective process, once students have experienced the potency of group working. Thus the theory and awareness of group dynamics arises out of the experiential learning. This can enable and empower students to develop as responsible autonomous individuals with the necessary awareness to make a positive commitment to the group in the way that Adkins advocates.
    Adkins, J. (2000) Contact Connection (a national newsletter about contact improvisation), Issue 19, p. 1.
    Bryan, C (2001) Assessing Group Practice, project report in press.

    Abstract: 2
    Assessing in triplicate: conflict and contradiction in assessing group practice

    Authors: Jackie Smart, Senior Lecturer, School of Community & Performing Arts, King Alfreds College, Winchester Steve Dixon, Associate Head of School (Teaching and Learning), School of Media, Music & Performance, University of Salford.
    Drawing on Foucaults methods of discourse analysis, this paper raises questions about how the language and structures we use in assessing undergraduate collaborative practice in the performing arts convey ideas of value. Central discourses which inform performing arts education are identified as relating to three key fields: The Academy, Professional Theatre and Art. Consideration is then taken of how a range of institutions site themselves in relation to these discourses and to the values inscribed within them, and how such discourses impact upon interpretations of the concept of assessment itself.
    The paper uses field research to investigate staff and student comprehension of what assessment means and to evaluate the impact of discourse-conflicts within learning, teaching and assessment processes in collaborative projects. The paper examines ways in which educational cultures in the post-16 sector construct preconceptions and expectations about performance and assessment that students bring to HE, and how institutional cultures influence staff approaches to these areas within different Departments and Schools of Performing Arts. In the context of a number of case studies and with reference to interviews with the students and staff involved in them, areas of difficulty related to the assessment of collaborative work at HE level are identified. Examination of the articulation of assessment (its design, structure and expression) indicates how perceptions of conflict or contradiction can be generated between the intellectual demands of The Academy, the skills-based requirements of Professional Theatre and the creative (and often transgressive) culture of Art. The paper examines ways in which groupwork assessment constructs these relationships, in terms of the evaluation of creative and critical, group and individual, process and product-based learning; and compares student and staff perceptions of the appropriateness and effectiveness of the various methods.
    The paper concludes with discussion of potential solutions to the problems raised, identifying existing examples of good practice and proposing methods by which these could be developed and integrated into the broader pedagogical structure. With reference to Foucaults notion of discourse as a system of relations between power and knowledge, the creation of a culture of dialogue is advocated within performing arts departments and institutions, and between those constructing and those experiencing groupwork assessment.

    Abstract 3 
    The show must go on! group formation and affectivity: some considerations for group work in higher education performing arts programmes.

    Author: Tom Maguire University of Ulster 

    Despite the centrality of group work in the practices of the performing arts within the educational and industrial settings, little research has been hitherto undertaken into the processes of group working within these disciplines in the higher education sector. There is, by contrast, a substantial corpus of literature in related disciplines such as business management (Belbin 1981 and Adair 1986, for example), social work (such as Barnes et al 1999 and Heap 1977) and therapy (see Jennings 1986, for example). There is a range of work documented too for group working within education at secondary and tertiary level (such as Gibbs 1995). This paper examines some considerations to be addressed in the processes of group formation within the performing arts. 
    Its main method is a review of this existing literature from other disciplines. Based on this review, evidence is presented of the desirability of groups which are heterogenuous since group members have to both manage the achievement of tasks and maintain the group itself. It is argued that the ways in which groups are formed, the first stage in the group maintenance process, will have a direct impact on the tasks achieved, the experience of group work and the learning which results. The variety of ways in which groups are formed is then examined. This includes formed, compulsory and natural groups. Evidence is produced to suggest that the alignment between the needs and values of individuals and those of the groups of which they are members has a large effect as a motivating factor. Group cohesion is presented as a key indicator of such alignment. Moreover, many of the problems associated with group work, such as low or late attendance, superficial cooperation or other forms of sabotage, may be avoided if such a motivational context can be created.
    The second strand of its method is to match this theoretical perspective against common practices within the United Kingdoms higher education performing arts sector. These practices have been identified through an extensive survey and ongoing fieldwork by the Assessing Group Practice three-year project. This survey involved initial individual interviews with representatives of 45 performing arts departments across the sector. Follow-up workshops and discussions have allowed further elements of effective practice to emerge. A selection of examples of this effective practice from across the sector are discussed. Based on these examples, it is suggested that election and selection are important processes in ensuring such group cohesion, individual motivation, and deeper engagement with group tasks. These are particularly pertinent within the performing arts since they are embedded within many of the theatrical processes which are used routinely already.

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