Creative Assessment in the English Literature degree: Towards Criteria for Assessment

Assessment, E-Learning

Brief Description

Building on work already undertaken by students and staff at the University of Hull, the project will investigate creative and innovative approaches to the support and assessment of student learning, by the use of the visual image.  This will include the authoring (by tutors and learners) of digital media in both formative and summative roles.  Particular attention will be paid to the summative use of the visual image, still and moving, in assessment both of subject knowledge and of transferable/employability skills.  Central to the project will be the development of assessment criteria which will enable quantative and qualitative assessment of these within the honours degree curriculum in English Literature, whilst retaining the character of the discipline and the rigour of the appropriate descriptors for the subject at Levels Four, Five and Six.

Aims and Objectives

The main aim of the project is to make the use of visual media in formative and summative assessment more readily accessible to practitioners in the field of English literary studies.  One of the main problems with this is a lack of basic criteria which will enable learners to fulfil the requirements of discipline-based module and level descriptors; the main objective of the project is to provide these.  It is in the nature of such criteria that they cannot be all-embracing, but the aim is to provide criteria which practitioners may not only use, but may build upon according to their own circumstances and the learning experiences they wish to provide.

In the process, some subsidiary questions will need to be addressed:

  • What is the nature of the discipline of English Literary Criticism/Studies?
  • How is this problem being addressed elsewhere, and in other disciplines, or branches of English Studies (eg Drama, Creative Writing, Film Studies)?
  • What can be learned/re-contextualized from this?
  • How great is the impact on student cognition and achievement?  On the embedding/scaffolding of employability/transferable skills?

Another major objective is the transmission of findings, which should be as wide as possible, and not restricted to the medium of print.  In the past, I have co-authored a visual learning resource with the English Subject Centre for the ILRT, and the project would build upon this experience to create an internet teaching resource.  The findings will be used to set up a learning object repository, hosted by the University of Hull.

Digitised and edited resources resulting from the project will also be made available on DVD.  A session will be offered at the HE Academy conference, and a written report made available to the English Subject Centre.


Much progress has been, and is being made, in the creative and innovative use of alternatives to the ‘the essay’ in English Studies and in the related fields of creative writing, drama, film and media studies.  This is being promoted by FEs, HEIs and institutions such as Film centres (for example, the Cornerhouse in Manchester and the Museum of the Moving Image in Bradford), the BUFVC and the BBC, as well as online projects such as TRACE, and other JISC and NESTA-funded initiatives.  However, the application of these new approaches to the study of literature at honours degree level is highly problematic, not least because of a perceived lack of disciplinary rigour in the assessment criteria applied.  These may be sufficient to measure transferable/employability skills, but it is not clear that they will measure performativity in the fundamentals of the discipline itself.  According to many practitioners I have personally interviewed at conferences and reports made, this is a greater problem than the availability of relevant technologies or expertise in HEIs.  Criteria for creative and innovative assessments are required in order to inspire confidence in their use and development within the honours curriculum.


This process will be achieved over a period of eighteen months, commencing immediately in January 2006 (or as soon as authorised by HEFCE), and will proceed in a series of well-defined stages, as follows:

  • Research and exemplars (completed and in progress, including that at Hull), will be gathered and considered by the project team, comprising the two leaders and two research and teaching assistants.
  • In the light of this, modules already available (and highly successful in terms of student choice and achievement) at Levels Five and Six will be adapted and developed as part of a new programme, to be delivered across all three levels of the English Literature degree curriculum.  Attention will be paid to the embedding of subject-specific and employability/transferable skills from Level Four upwards, in carefully graduated steps, to a high level of subject cognition and skills knowledge at Level Six.  Central to this will be the use of the visual image and digital media.  This will include the development of appropriate assessment criteria, mapped onto traditional undergraduate assessment procedures at each Level.
  • A period of action research, including delivery and student feedback, which will test the effectiveness and usefulness of the approach.
  • This will be followed by a period of reflection, including the writing-up of results and the collation/formation of resource materials.
  • The evaluation and presentation of assessment criteria at each Level, with relevant descriptors.
  • The production of resources, and the transmission of results.

Participating students will not be deliberately selected, student choice being monitored in relation to student feedback and results.

Feedback will be obtained at the beginning of, during and at the end of the action research phase.  This will be by a variety of methods, including an independently administered evaluation exercise, questionnaires and discussion board.  The work will be publicized/supported by web pages and a Blackboard 6 virtual learning environment.

The project will be delivered by the two project leaders, with the aid of two part-time postgraduate research and teaching assistants.  Teaching relief will be sought for some of Dr Coote’s teaching workload.


Over the last eight years I have been developing new methods of delivery and assessment for English Literature students, using VLEs and new media, and developing forms of ‘creative writing’ for assessment; this has led to personal development of relevant skills in these areas.  In addition, I am currently a University Teaching Fellow, exploring the role of film and new media in learning and teaching (all subjects), and a member of the university’s Institute for Learning, where I tutor and supervise colleagues on the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (HE).  I mentor graduate teaching assistants.  Kevin Burden is an IT developer working in the Department of Education, promoting and developing digital resources and teaching tools throughout the university.  He also works for the CASCADE (Now Digital technologies Network) unit, developing and promoting digital tools in secondary education and FE locally.  He has links with the BBC in Hull, who have a close interest in this work.

Similar Work

As befits its importance, there is a great deal of material on assessment, both in HE and other areas.  There is also some work on creative and innovative assessment, particularly in the form of project reports, although there is also some published work in book form, or as part of books on assessment.  There is, of course, the original 53 Interesting Ways to Assess your Students by Gibbs and Habeshaw, but recently also work by Brown and Glasner (Society for Research into Higher Education), Brown and Knight, Miller, Imrie and Cox, Jenny Moon and John Heywood.  In addition to this, there are resources available from SEDA, and from the HE Academy’s Generic and Subject Centres.  Resources are also available, for example, from the BBC, BUVFC, and many internet sites such as Prelinger Archives and Creative Commons.  These do not, however, address the problem of how to utilise and assess these in the context of English Literature honours curricula.  This is a very specialised problem, which requires specialised solutions.  It is hoped that this project will ‘connect’ well with projects in related fields, such as Stuart Lee’s current ESC project on the use of film in assessment.


Products of the project will be:

  • Assessment criteria encompassing the utilisation of the visual image, including film and digital media authored by staff and students, in the formative and summative assessment of English literary studied within the honours degree curriculum.  These will be produced in accordance with level descriptors for Levels Four, Five and Six, and will be supported by appropriate rationale and explanation.
  • A project website, supported by the University of Hull, accessible through the university’s webpages and through the English Subject Centre webpages
  • Freely available DVDs of the project, containing an introduction, guides to the materials and methodologies used, assessment criteria developed, bibliographical information, for the benefit, inspiration and use of educational practitioners at this level.
  • Case study and report, to be made available to the Higher Education Academy and the English Subject Centre.
  • The setting up of a learning object repository, hosted by the University of Hull, freely available to the wider community, with links to the English Subject Centre.  (This would be developed as a future project, being too large an undertaking to be included within the remit of the current project).
  • Dissemination by conference sessions and other networking (eg exhibitions, visits) to the wider community.


The ultimate benefit of this project would be both practical and inspirational.  Practical, in that it will enable practitioners who feel the need to broaden their curricula with innovative and creative assessment to be more confident in their use of these, and of their applicability to the discipline and level of study at honours degree level.  It will encourage and cater for increased student diversity and transferable/employability skills by demonstrating how these may be included within disciplinary paradigms and parameters, whilst maintaining the fundamental skills and the rigour of literary studies in English.  Inspirational, in that this will not, and cannot, be a definitive exercise.  It is hoped that practitioners will be inspired and enabled to take this work and develop it within their own situation and their own student body.  A recent study at the University of Nottingham has identified a great diversity in preferred learning styles among students, with the average student preferring ‘active processing, sequential understanding, visual input, and sensing perception of information.’  However, wide variations were detected between disciplines, genders and ages.  (University of Nottingham, Seventh Learning and Teaching Conference, Sept. 13th 2005).  It is hoped that the project will provide an aid to the addressing of such diverse student needs.

Project Leader

Dr Lesley Coote
Department of English
University of Hull

Project partners

Dr Kevin Burden
University of Hull
Department of Education