Reading visual art as an artifact for assessment

posted Jul 25, 2012, 6:01 PM by Vicki Stieha
A few years ago I was teaching a literature course in a Mid-western university and I used an assignment each semester to help assess the students' learning in the course.  The objective of the assignment was for students to select a work that we had read in the course and to choose a medium other than writing to express the themes in the literature.  They did have to accompany their artistic renderings with an artist's statement, but the assessment was holistic. The course objectives essentially reflected the ideas that are captured in Boise State's ULO 10: "Apply knowledge and the methods of inquiry characteristic of literature and other humanities disciplines to interpret and produce texts expressive of the human condition." 

The image you see below is an artifact of a student's learning.  It reflects the student's interpretation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House.  If you are unfamiliar with the play, see the synopsis courtesy of Spark Notes. The students' work brings out primary tensions in the work (laws and cultural norms that are "black and white" and that enforce rigidity; the acts that one does in the dark --albeit well meaning -- coming back to cause injury in the light of day; tension between the gender roles to which the characters must adhere, etc.)
This charcoal drawing (20" x 30") hangs on my office wall -- so you can visit it in person and we can talk about this assignment if you are interested
illustration of Ibsen's A Doll's House

Using the criteria for ULO 10, my assessment of the work is marked on the attached rubric.  The act of "reading" this work against the rubric that we use for the ULO and then basing my assessment on that criteria parallels grading.  The only difference is that the criteria for a grade are aligned with the criteria on the rubric.  You'll notice on the attached that some of the criteria cannot be assessed with this assignment.  That is fine -- not every criteria on the rubric needs to be addressed. You'll also notice that the students written artist statement would have to be the source for assessing some of the criteria.  Since I am not showing that here, you cannot see how that is scored. 

The main point of this post is that it is not the writing that is the basis for the assessment - the written artist's statement and the artist's rendering operate together to communicate the students' understanding of the original work and can be assessed against the rubric to understand her learning. 

As a professor, the assessment tells me that I might want to adjust the assignment if I wanted to be able to gather more evidence of the student's learning relative to the criteria that remain unanswered by this artifact.


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Vicki Stieha,
Jul 25, 2012, 6:01 PM
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