I recently had the somewhat unusual experience of doing assessment tasks that I had written myself, which seems like an unusual enough set of circumstances that writing something about the experience is warranted but I don’t think I have a full autoethnographic article on the thing in me so here we are instead.
Let me tell you how to situation came to be.
About 18 months ago, I was allocated to work on a project that had just begun to create the Graduate Certificate in Professional Practice. The nature of university bureaucracy is such that hideous lead times are required for new course and unit forms, so I ended up being the one who wrote the course learning outcomes, as well as the unit learning outcomes and assessment tasks for the core unit. Soon after I was allocated to lead an entirely different project and thus had no further engagement in the course development or delivery process.
A year or so later when the course was up and running, it became apparent that those of us in third space-shaped roles had the same career and professional development needs as the target cohort for which the course had been designed, and that perhaps doing this course would be quite a good PD opportunity for us.
And that is how I came to be enrolled in the unit whose assessment tasks I had written.
I suppose, if I am honest, I had myself in the back of my head the whole time, someone who was frustrated with the nature of standard teaching units and standard course programs, someone who never quite fit, someone who had a lot of professional experience to bring to the table, and I don’t know that I would have been able to write those biases out even if I had been aware of them. I suspect I may well not be alone amongst teachers and pedagogues in the unspoken catharsis of creating assessment tasks that I would succeed at. I don’t think many, if any, though, would get the chance to actually test this theory in practice – true, student-situated, credentialed practice, not just exemplars or modelling.
So – did I pass? Did I design assessment tasks that scaffolded me to succeed?
I did. 95%. Highest mark I’ve ever had in a unit.
But more than that, the sense of flow I had in this unit was something I’d never experienced when studying before. I felt all the things we all try to get students to feel. ‘Engagement’ is an extremely abstract concept until you actually feel it in your bones. I had no idea it was possible for me to write 15000 words in 3 months (I actually wrote quite a bit more than this but it was unrelated work). When I finished I felt that satisfied just-eaten-superb-meal feeling, instead of the ‘thank christ it’s over I need a drink’ that has ended many of my other study efforts.
It’s a moral grey area, unquestionably. There’s no way to unconflate myself from the design work and control for the possible affordances of that. And it’s certainly no pedagogical panacea, there will be other students who struggle with the assessment structure. But it is pedagogical defensible, policy compliant and in line with the university’s strategic goals. It’s an awkward, but not invalid, set of circumstances.
But purely at a human level, the relief I felt at finally having the ability to engage in study in a way I could truly run with, and the unadulterated joy of being able to craft myself something that let me maximise my strengths instead of being subject to misaligned pedagogical values, was satisfying enough to make any amount of awkwardness worthwhile. It also allowed me to bring in the work from my abandoned previous PhD and get credit for it so that it wasn’t wasted, an amount of guilt assuaging that can’t be underestimated.
And that is the end of my small story. An interesting aside more than anything, but still worthy of note both for the experience and for the questions I’m left with – how do we write ourselves into the work that we do? Do we all have student-us standing over our shoulders when we design learning, unconsciously co-creating with us? Should we?