A constellation of images, words and sounds:
tutor experiences of multimodal assessment in the digital classroom
This dissertation considers how tutors from the MSc in Digital Education, an online taught postgraduate programme at The University of Edinburgh, approach and experience multimodal assessment. Recent technological advances, alongside the digitisation of many areas of higher education, allow for academic knowledge to be shared in new and imaginative ways (McKenna and Hughes 2013). Students and tutors can look beyond text as the sole or significant means of representation and instead take a multimodal approach within teaching and learning (Jewitt 2006). Multimodality is thus understood to be a contributing factor to the emergence of a digital culture within education (Land 2011) that has the potential to reshape research, teaching, course design and assessment (Goodfellow and Lea 2013).
Within this dissertation I have explored how multimodality provides opportunities, and provokes challenges, for tutors concerned with summative assessment. I have examined the rationale for encouraging students to take a multimodal approach during assessment, the conditions that promote and discourage the composition of digital assignments, and how tutors approach the marking of artefacts that present ideas across a range of modes. My understanding of multimodality is based upon the work of Gunther Kress (see in particular 2005, 2009) and Carey Jewitt (see in particular 2006, 2009) and concerns the simultaneous employment of a range of semiotic modes for the purpose of representing academic ideas or knowledge. I have also drawn on literature concerned with digital literacies.
My qualitative, flexible research design was underpinned by an interpretivist theoretical stance (Crotty 1998) while my methodology took a broadly ethnographical approach. Data collection comprised semi-structured interviews with tutors from the Digital Education programme, followed by thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006). A further stage of data collection, for the purpose of comparison, involved observing campus-based multimodal assessment practices within undergraduate Architecture at The University of Edinburgh.
The collected data identified a clear rationale for multimodal assessment, including a desire to encourage students to explore the possibilities of the digital form. It was also shown however that conventional text-based representation would continue to exist alongside and within multimodal forms. I have thus argued that we should see multimodality as an evolutionary process where existing and emerging forms co-exist and hybridise to create a more diverse representational landscape, rather than a revolution in literacy where old ways are necessarily deposed by the new.
Multimodality, the data suggests, prompts tutors to think newly about assessment practices, with emphasis placed upon acts of interpretation rather than measurements of quality. I have argued that the digital form re-imagines the marker as a curator, as she interprets meaning from a range of communicational material. This in turn prompts a reconfiguration of classroom power relations, albeit with the tutor retaining her role in grading the multimodal assessment artefact.
Finally, I have argued that the literature currently fails to adequately examine multimodal assessment in practice, and in particular how tutors exploit the opportunities and confront the inherent challenges. By investigating tutor experiences surrounding assessment I offer practice-based insights that add to the growing body of literature surrounding multimodality.