Tutor's pen is all-mighty

December 8, 2006

Lecturers struggling to stay awake after marking their 100th exam paper of the evening might be forgiven for feeling despondent.

But have they considered the feelings of the students whose morale can be crushed by the mere stroke of a tutor's pen?

A research paper on students' representations of the assessment process in drawings and stories illustrates their despair.

One cartoon shows a stick person holding an exam paper with a gun in his mouth and a thought bubble of a grave stone bearing the words "join me in death".

An art and design student described in a story how her ceramic pots were derided by assessors in front of other students as being like "woolly jumpers a grandmother would give their (sic) grandsons for Christmas".

The paper by Chris McKilop, of Gray's School of Art at Robert Gordon University, was presented this week at a Middlesex University conference on alternative approaches to educational research.

The paper says students had an "overwhelmingly negative reaction to assessment", which could be a barrier to learning and lead to students feeling "oppressed by their assessors". The paper suggests that pictures and stories can be far more effective than feedback questionnaires in determining students' experiences.

Another paper says poetry and metaphor can help students to "hone their vision, develop their originality and forge their identities as creative researchers". First-year doctoral students in education at Brighton University will write poems about the research process as part of their course.

The paper, by Brighton's Avril Loveless and Maria Antoniou, includes a poem about a man watching a spider. It invites readers to draw parallels between the poem and the research experience.

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