Aligning assessment form with content: culture war case studies presented as digital outputs

a person reading a book with a rainbow cover with their face redacted

Instructor: Dr Ruth Adams


Module: Culture Wars: Creative Industries in an Age of Political Populism (level 6), BA Culture, Media and Creative Industries (CMCI), Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Assessment activity: Students produce a critical analysis of case study example of a ‘culture war’ presented as 15 minute YouTube style audio-visual presentation OR a podcast.


Why did you introduce this form of assessment?

The CMCI department has been diversifying its assessment diet for some years, in line with a programme level approach to assessment for learning. This assessment builds on skills that students have acquired in other modules.

Fundamentally, I thought it was really important that the form of the assessment should align with the content of the module. Students study a range of sensitive topics around culture war debates which are largely played out online through a variety of digital media. For students to be able to produce such an output would allow them to make a contribution to the field.

The demographic makeup of our students on the module is very diverse and have often chosen this module because it reflects their lived experience, and these issues are motivating for them, hence we want to be able to harness their creativity and identity expression while developing critical analytical skills.

What students can gain from this that cannot from a more traditional form of assessment:

  • the ability to make a compelling argument through a distilled format;
  • the ability to use a tone and approach suitable for a lay audience but without sacrificing scholarly rigour;
  • marketable skills such as video production and media literacy;
  • confidence in discussing sensitive issues pertinent to them in a safe space while considering disciplinary standards of criticality.


How did you organise the assessment?

This is an individual assignment. Students are asked to outline two opposing positions on a specific issue or event that has been a flashpoint or a debate within the culture wars.  The issue/event can be from any country/countries and from any time in the 21st century. This can appeal to our students’ own backgrounds (we have many international students, so we do not wish to limit discussions to only western centric topics). Students are expected to explain and contextualize the issue or event before outlining the opposing positions and are then asked to provide a commentary on these positions, drawing on a range of relevant literature – including academic, policy, and journalistic texts.

Students should present this material as either a 15-minute audio ‘podcast’, or a 15-minute video essay.  They have freedom with the structure and approach that they take in order to maximise their creativity provided that they meet the learning outcomes and the assessment brief.

Submission is due the first week after the holidays when the module is completed, so students have 5 weeks to work on their assignment. Students upload their videos to a custom inbox on the KEATS page and from there they can upload both their media file and their word document to Turnitin*

We give students the optionality of two formats. This provides enough choice to reflect the different skills and interests of the students but is within the parameters that these are probably most important forms of communication of ideas and debates in the culture wars.

To ensure that students are not disadvantaged, we highlight that free software editing tools, such as the College’s Kaltura software, Powerpoint, Audacity, Garageband or PremierPro. We also provide a list of free sound archives where they can download materials:

  • Wikimedia Commons – a database of audiofiles that can be used for free without copyright restrictions
  • Creative Commons – a source of audiofiles that can be used for free under the Creative Commons License
  • Free Music Archive – a source for high-quality legal audio downloads
  • British Library Sounds – a selection from the British Library’s extensive collections
  • BBC Sound Archive – a range of audio files that are free to download for educational use
  • Box of Broadcasts – UK television and radio archive (which includes numerous feature films) free to access and available to use for educational purposes.

*Although it would have been nice for us in some ways to have public submissions, the nature of the content and the privacy and ethical responsibility to our students means that we restrict the submissions to within Kings (see later sections for more details).


How did you design the criteria and weighting of the assessment?

The assessment counts for 100% of the module weighting. This allows students to entirely focus on this assessment.

It is marked using Presentation+Portfolio Marking Criteria_CMCI used for ‘non-standard assessment’ which have been adapted from the generic College Criteria. We try to ensure fairness by stating that students are not expected to have sophisticated technical/editing skills, and marks are not given for the aesthetics of the presentation or technical effects. Instead, marks are based on the effective marshalling of resources, constructing clear and convincing arguments, and for the creative usage of source material

Submissions are marked by ML and one teaching colleague so informal calibration can take place, and then second marking moderation is undertaken by another departmental colleague.


How did you support the students with this new form of assessment?

I produced an assessment guide (6AAIC011Culture Wars Assessment22-23(1). This outlines the process that students should go through to make their output as well as the learning we are looking for in terms of the theories learned on the course and the demonstration of skills in making a good piece of communication.

We hold a lecture in week 7 about the assessment, with time for questions, together with sample scripts, and examples of podcasts and videos.  CultureWarsAssessmentLecture

Students were also encouraged to visit staff during office hours to ask questions.


How do you give feedback?

Although there is no formal formative submission, we hold a seminar in Week 7 of the course which is all about discussion of the assessment. Students are asked to bring topic ideas to discuss with their peers and get feedback and suggestions from both tutors and peers. This not only helps students use peer feedback to build evaluative judgment on others’ work but build their own confidence in testing out their ideas so far with a limited audience.

For summative feedback, students submit a script alongside the digital output to Turnitin. This allows us to check for plagiarism but also so they can put their academic references into their script appropriately. This allows written feedback to be given via Turnitin.


What benefits did you see?

  • The quality of the students’ work – we were so impressed with the quality of the work. We gave a significant number of 80+ grades which were genuinely deserving. Out of a cohort of 45, 32 scored a 2.1 or a first.
  • Marking workload- The scripts were only there for checking and we only had to really mark the audio-visual output. So not only was it a quicker process but it was also a lot more fun and interesting for us to mark!
  • Resistance to GenAI- we have been introducing more diverse assessment as a dept for some time, partly to deter use of essay mills, but it has similar benefits for vulnerability to LLMs. The next phase will be to look at how GenAI can be integrated into the assessment itself. The assessment is personalised and students can take ownership of the content and the format, so it is genuinely motivating – deterring students from outsourcing the work.


What challenges did you encounter and how did you address them?

With content of this nature on the module, we had some ethical issues to consider:

  • The often very sensitive political nature of the content required creative ways to address controversial topics whilst maintaining ethical probity. We needed to maintain privacy and safety of all our students, but this was a particular concern for us with some of our international students.  Scripts were not, therefore, entered into the universal Turnitin database and are therefore not searchable for anyone outside the department.
  • Students were required to think critically about the practicalities and potential consequences of including participants, such as interviewees, in their work which requires ethical approval via REMAS.  Generally we tried to dissuade them from doing this.  Some however used actors – which is easier in a podcast than visual media so this may have restricted their choice of output.
  • Students sometimes expressed anxiety about finding ways to address the brief without putting themselves in danger. We help them with some stylistic strategies and media techniques such as putting points/arguments in the third person, making it speculative and distancing themselves from their opinion.
  • The nature of the assessment does not allow for anonymous marking, but this is no different from many traditional assessments such as presentations. Usually, my colleague and I do not mark the students that we have taught and know personally so this addresses some issues of partiality.

Some students were understandably anxious about this new form of assessment, but the scaffolded support discussed above was designed to help alleviate this.


What are your next steps?

Students taking the module this year will be able to see carefully selected examples of previous student work. This can allow them to deconstruct the samples with grades at different boundaries and see different approaches that can also obtain higher grades. This can add to the quality of feedback strategies for formative work and discussion around the assessment.


What advice would you give to colleagues wanting to implement this type of assessment?

It is worth taking a risk! Although this type of assessment required quite a lot of ‘front loading’, as it was not something neither students nor staff had done before, it really paid off and students produced quite exceptional work.

Make sure the output/form of the assessment fits with the content of the module! Students need to know why they are being set the assessment and what they will again- they are more likely to be enthusiastic and buy into it if they see what they will gain.

Students need scaffolding and support for new assessment practices. For students coming from more conventional degrees and topics, some tech support might also be important.

If  you are part of a teaching team, it is important to build support for and from colleagues to ensure they are also on board with the rationale for the assessment.




Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.