I thought I’d tap out a quick blog post on an alternative form of assessment that
a) my students seemed to really enjoy (this was an option for their first assignment and about 90% chose to do this over the other two options)
b) met two of my learning objectives for the course– ensuring students are able to effectively apply critical/theoretical concepts to a case study and also providing them with opportunities to produce work that is accessible to a non-academic audience (whilst still being intellectually rigorous).
It is an assignment that is easily adaptable to a range of topics and fields of study. So as you are all busy working on your course renewal for the upcoming academic year *nudge-nudge-September will be here sooner than we think*, I invite you to consider and adapt this assignment for your own courses. If you do, I’d love to see the outcome!
Below are the guidelines and instructions I provided to students in the syllabus:
For this assignment, you will need to do two things. First, you will need to choose a concept/theory/debate discussed in the readings or in class and apply it to a case study. ‘Applying’ can mean many things. It may mean using a concept to help explore a particular element of a conflict or show the conflict in a new light. It might mean using a concept to explain the success or failure of a particular peacebuilding program. These are just two examples. In general, it means that you are using the concept as a ‘lens’ through which you can look at an issue in a way that offers a unique perspective and/or tells a different side of the ‘story’ than the ones we might see in the popular press or via orthodox theories such as liberalism and realism.
Second, you will need to present your analysis in the form of an infographic. This means you should present your analysis visually. You can use words, but these should accompany images—graphs, pictures, charts etc (get creative and use your imagination). Dr. Peterson has put up some examples of infographics on Connect to give you some ideas but these should not be seen as templates. The goal is to make complex, critical analytical work more accessible to the public by presenting it visually. By this point in your academic careers you have likely developed excellent writing skills. However, the written form is only one way of communicating with the public—this assignment aims to offer you another mode of communication.
Below are two examples that came out of my most recent Critical Peace Studies seminar group. Many thanks to my students who allowed me to use their work in this blog– the first is a Marxist analysis of the climate change debate with further discussion of how structural violence can also help us highlight a range of impacts of climate change. The latter also employs Galtung’s discussion of structural violence as a way of understanding the situation in North Korea (in comparison to traditional understandings of direct/ physical violence or inter-state conflict).
Assessment and Other Considerations
Of course, as with any ‘out of the ordinary’ form of assessment, students often get quite anxious about grades. Whilst I hate contributing to the cult of ‘grades are the be-all-and end-all’ of student worth, I have found that walking the students through how I will read their work helps reduce their stress levels. Incidentally, it also reduces the number of emails I receive regarding the assignment, thereby reducing my stress levels. Below is the text I give them ahead of time (also in the syllabus)
You will be graded on the following criteria:
-the infographic is clearly linked to an element of the module (a concept, theory, approach or argument found in the readings or seminars). Please do not choose an orthodox IR concept such as realism, liberalism etc (speak to Jen before you start if you have any concerns over your topic)
-your ability to apply a concept from the course to a case study effectively
-your ability to present this complex/advanced analysis visually and creatively in a form that would be more accessible to a public audience than a traditional research paper.
A few cautionary notes. Some students will get drawn in by the design side of this assignment and produce something visually striking without much in terms of content, so taking time to emphasize the content/substance element of this assignment will prevent headaches for all parties. Also, some students will come equipped with a great deal of design expertise which in some regards puts other students at a disadvantage so again, going through examples of infographics related to your topic and highlighting what works and doesn’t work will help students build skills in this area and perform better on the assignment. I found this website useful on providing students with some good tips for producing their infographic. Finally, whilst one of the reasons I include assignments such as this and other visual assignments is that I do worry about how we primarily assess students on their writing, which I have written about here, you may want to consider offering this as an optional assignment which can be chosen in place of a more traditional written assignment.