Anne McGuire: Real-life tests may ease end-of-term exam dread

Students interviewed real footballers as part of their assessment. Picture: Michael Gillen
Students interviewed real footballers as part of their assessment. Picture: Michael Gillen
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END-of-term exams need not be a terror for students, says Annie McGuire, who wants to see more real-life experiences to test their abilities.

THINK of university assessments and, like me, you may be cast back to a world of writing essays on books you’d read several articles on – but never actually got past chapter two of the novel itself.

Some might say this was perfect preparation for a career in journalism, but now as an educator myself I’ve begun to think about whether there’s a better approach to end-of-term assessment. Does it need to inspire dread in students and, in some cases, cause some to switch off entirely?

Then I had a revelation – why can’t assessment be fun?

University of the West of Scotland, where I teach both journalism and our specialist degree in sports journalism, is always ready to look afresh at the “norms” of education and how best to create stimulating learning environments.

Inspired by a body of educational research suggesting humans learn more effectively by participating in an activity, I decided to embrace that notion. We took our students to St Mirren FC’s training ground for our own bespoke media conference to assess their introduction to television journalism module.

With the help of club chief executive Tony Fitzpatrick and manager Alex Rae, all 18 students conducted their own interviews with a first-team footballer.

Going back to first principles, the point of assessment is to measure knowledge and understanding. There’s no reason why this can’t be done when students are interviewing well-known footballers and enjoying the process.

For students on our BA journalism course, we replicated the experience the following week by organising an almost identical day with those leading the bid for Paisley to be City of Culture in 2021. The students made important contacts and immersed themselves in a story as any working journalist would do, all for the purpose of assessment.

An active learning pedagogy such as this would not be appropriate for every subject – students will still see many exam hall interiors as we test their knowledge of media law, ethics and the other ingredients that make a great journalist.

Educators like UWS who deal with an increasingly diverse group of learners and subjects are rightly embracing an equally diverse range of teaching and assessment options – and anything that makes students more enthusiastic about their subject can only be a good thing.

• Annie McGuire is a journalist and lecturer in journalism at University of the West of Scotland.