Creative Assessments and Student Collaboration

a woman sitting at a desk with a computer, and another empty spot at the desk with a computer and phone.

Interested in learning about student engagement and collaborative tools or ways to make your classroom projects meaningful and impactful? Some UMass Amherst instructors shared what they do during the third meeting of the Instructional Innovation Fellowship (IIF).

We started the meeting with an online collaborative activity on Mentimeter. Participants shared their tips on how to survive finals or grading. Various answers appeared on the screen, from calendar blocking to grading batches, and stocking on treats. After a generative discussion on surviving the grading season, three fellows presented their innovative teaching strategies.

Student Collaboration with Wikis

Tiarra Cooper, talked about how she uses Moodle’s Wiki. The Wiki is a plugin added to Moodle at UMass that allows collaborative editing of content. The potential uses of the tool range from sign-ups, glossary creation, building collaborative study guides, and even building out miniature websites.. For instance, she utilizes the tool for signing up for presentations, oral exams, office hours, or midterm check-ins. The tool is also helpful for group projects and class notes or records. 

In her experience, the tool helps offload instructors’ managerial tasks because students can work on their own to sign-up for tasks as well as collaborative group assignments. Moodle Wiki also promotes teamwork, a valuable skill for the 21st-century workforce. What she enjoys the most about the tool is its simplicity. 

Instructors can decide who can change a wiki, and even when it should be available to students. Tiara demonstrated how to utilize it for book sign-ups by having her students list the novels they wished to read in class.

Co-creation of lasting educational artifacts

As an instructor at the Journalism Department, Kelsey Whipple is keen to co-create lasting educational artifacts with her students. The objective is to encourage students’ creative empowerment and practical learning opportunities. She likes to give students the opportunity to co-create lasting artifacts, a small-time capsule of their experiences, and proof of concept for potential future partnerships (public organizations, UMass programs, and many others).

The most notable examples Kelsey shared were the audio tour, podcasts, and zines. In partnership with the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA), she and her students created an art museum audio tour. They also made one for hidden gems at the DuBois Library (ongoing). Another co-creative project is podcasting about life and culture in Amherst, IT Happened in Amherst, which is available on iTunes and Spotify

Additionally, students produced zines, a reporting story about gender and sexuality and about communities being targeted and discriminated against. In the process, students utilized their university provided student allowances for printing services at the library and received help from librarians when needed. 

Kelsey notes that although these co-creative projects are hard at first, they are worth doing. Students value tangible projects that they can always revisit as well as use as examples for potential professional jobs. The fact that her students are deeply inspired by the work of their peers is what she enjoys the most. 

Interactive and Engaging Presentations with Slido

Colleen Chase shared how she manages presentations with Slido, an interactive tool to engage students in large classes. Slido offers ways to interact with students, such as live surveys/ polls, quizzes, and audience Q&A. Compared to other similar apps, Colleen thinks the tool is neater, cleaner, and more professional. She makes use of the tool for teamwork exercises, tests, and warm-up activities. She particularly enjoys using the tool to assess students’ comprehension of the topic both before and after class. 

The tool also has options to allow students to see other responses in real time and instructors can use the tool for additional credit in order to encourage students to participate in the conversation. Colleen noted that the Slido’s free trial should be sufficient for low stakes class activities.

It was an insightful meeting with lots to take away. For another dive into innovative teaching practices, check out our other Instructional Innovation Fellowship blog posts