Friday, May 30, 2008

Creative Assessment

Here is another offering in the creativity in theological education series.

Introducing Tim Bulkeley
Tim Bulkeley teaches at Carey College and the Tyndale-Carey Graduate School in Auckland, New Zealand. Among his many pursuits Tim is a prolific blogger, the driving force behind the Pod Bible (a Bible podcast of a chapter a day or the Bible in a year read by real people) and the Hypertext Bible Project which includes an Online Bible Dictionary.

During a sabbatical in the first half of 2008 Tim has been a theologian without borders in two countries. Read about his experiences at Teaching OT in Faraway Places.

Here are some ideas about creative assessment in Tim’s words:

Creative Assessment
As a teacher of Old Testament I try to be creative in my assessment packages for three main reasons. Ever since (as a recent BSc graduate) I was given the task: “Write an essay on Amos for next week” I have been convinced that essays ought not to be the only means of assessment in biblical studies. I also cringe at the inexpressive readings of Scripture we often suffer in church, worse still are the readings that express unintended meanings! The third motive is a desire to bridge the gap between scholarship and church, which we all claim “ought” not to exist, but which nevertheless does.

Analysis and Synthesis
Studying a text involves both analysis and subsequent synthesis. Analysis alone gives one a good understanding of the component parts of the text. Depending on the approach used this may be: a historical understanding of where the text came from, or a literary understanding of the techniques its author(s) used… However, and especially when the text is ancient and one that a faith community accepts as authoritative, a synthetic move is also necessary - to work out what the text means, and to explain that meaning to others in the community of faith.

Exegesis and Application
Often the assignments that we set for students address one of these moves in isolation from the other. So, an "exegesis" provides good practice in analysis, and a good assessment of the student's skill in analyzing texts. However, when the teacher asks for a strong "application" section to the exegesis - at least in my experience - either application "takes over" and little analysis gets reported (and often the message seems only tortuously related to the text ;-) or the "application" reads like some pious thoughts tacked on to the end of the otherwise careful and scholarly essay.

Performing the Bible Text
One way I have addressed this problem is through an assignment I call "Performing a Biblical Text". By "perform" I mean presenting the text (in written or oral form) in such a way that its interpretation is clear to an audience. The instructions require the student to add as few words to the text as possible. Performances have included: setting a text to music, disposing the words on a poster, screen presentations which combine the text with images, acting out the "story" using the words of scripture (a "dramatized reading") and the like.

Justifying the Performance
As well as the performance itself students are required to prepare a "justification" which explains their performance in terms of the features of, and techniques used in, the text which suggest the "reading" presented by the performance. It is this justification rather than the artistic quality of the performance itself which is assessed and marked.

The main advantages of this assessment are:

* Students are required both to analyse with care, and to attend to putting things back together into a working whole. The two moves cannot be separated or a poorer mark results.

* Students are often “inspired” with enthusiasm and sometimes produce much better work than I expect (on the basis of previous conventional tasks).

* Students produce work that they actually use in church settings – so both integrating study and life and improving the quality and richness of Bible reading in church.

* Students sometimes tell me that they have undertaken a similar process in real life use of the Bible.

The main disadvantages of this assessment are:

* It requires more work from the student, and so leaves less time in the class mix for reading.

* It can lead to sad cases where the performance (as a performance) is brilliant, but because of poor exegesis the student does not get the mark they (and I) think the performance was “worth”.

One needs to be careful that students without acting, graphical, music… skills do not feel that “they cannot do it”. In fact some of the least “artistic” students have produced great results – remember the performance itself is not marked as a show!

Clear Instructions
It is difficult to explain clearly to students the first time they do it – on the other hand, how much time and effort is required to explain “write an exegesis”?

Click on Project Instructions to see the written information the students received.

Click on Project Marking Sheet to see the criteria against which the projects were assessed.

For Example
Here are two sample performances, I have not presented the students justifications – that were marked – you can work them out for yourselves (as homework ;-) these were chosen as good examples of what is possible, and because they are quite different from one another. They were also two for which the students concerned had given permission for me to show them off!

Genesis 1

Genesis 22

Displaying Project Performances
The Genesis 1 project was presented in the way of a physical object. The Genesis 22 project was presented as a Powerpoint performance. Tim has used Camtasia to display these projects on the Internet.

Image: Dr. Tim Bulkeley

Please keep forwarding to me for posting, your creative happenings and ideas about theological education.

Dr. Geoff Pound
Chair, Coordinating Committee
Theologians Without Borders.