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Publication details

Morgan, C 2011, 'In the eye of the beholder? An investigation of student assessment in the creative arts in universities', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright C Morgan 2011


This thesis addresses the question of how university academics in the creative arts might assess students’ creative works fairly and appropriately. Specifically, it considers how these academics conceptualise and approach the task of student assessment, what tensions and dilemmas are experienced in student assessment, and how student assessment practices in the creative arts might be made more transparent and robust. The complexities of student assessment in the creative arts, and the uncertainties and vulnerabilities that beleaguer academics when making judgements about the quality of their students’ creative works are widely recognised, but not well understood. This investigation employed Naturalistic Inquiry to illuminate the assessment experiences in creative arts of 30 academics from across three countries. It documents how these academics conceptualised creativity in their own disciplines, how they conveyed their understandings to students, how they provided feedback on students’ creative development, how they prepared students for assessment, and how they made judgements about students’ creative works. Four interlinked dilemmas of student assessment practice in the creative arts were thus identified. The first is the lack of a shared understanding of creativity and of its manifestations in particular disciplinary settings. The second is the difficulty of explaining creativity to students. The third is the challenge of providing transparency for students about how their creative works are to be judged. The fourth is the decision about what role subjectivity should play in judgements about creativity in student works. The findings from this investigation challenge accepted wisdom about student assessment that is based largely on positivist paradigms. Outcomes-based education, for example, does not readily allow for the unexpected or unanticipated – yet these are highly prized qualities for academics assessing students’ creative works. Based on the insights obtained, a seven-phased, cyclical model of student assessment in the creative arts is proposed. This model identifies the purposes of each phase of the student assessment cycle, addresses the dilemmas of student assessment that have been identified by academics in the creative arts, and provides indicators of sound practice. The model is designed to support assessors to navigate through a complex terrain, to reflect on current practice, and to harness their activities consistently towards the central purpose of fostering creativity while at the same time assessing student work with demonstrable fairness and appropriateness.