Assessment Design: types of assessment task

Biography

What is it?

Biography can be an interesting way to encourage students to get under the skin of relevant people in the discipline. It is not just a task for creative writing students or historians. Biography can encourage students to uncover context and help them to relate what happens in their discipline to other things in the world. By tracing and analysing someone’s career path, they can see how study or practice in particular fields can help them to achieve a particular goal or work out how political, economic or sociological context can affect practice

Recommended levels:

3 – 5

Suitable for groups?

No

Things to think about

You could ask students to prepare a real biography of a person working in a particular field, or ask them to produce a composite or fictitious biography of a person doing a particular job. You can provide a list of potential subjects or allow students to identify their own. If they are finding their own subjects, then you may wish to set the parameter of the search – in what way should the subject be related to the topic of study? Should the subject be celebrated for working in the discipline? Could they be an ordinary person who does a particular job or has lived with a particular condition or has a certain approach to life?

Allowing students to choose a subject gives them more ownership of the assignment and can lead to a wider range, which might prove to be more inclusive - for instance, they could be encouraged to find out more about people with different characteristics.

In general, this kind of assignment would be fine for levels 3 and 4 if a fairly descriptive outcome is expected; for level 5 it might work better if students are asked to construct a fictitious biography (eg of a service user) or to link the experiences of the subject to current practice.

Consider whether this must be a written piece, or whether you could consider a choice of written, audio, video or drawn submissions. Alternatives may make this more accessible for students with mild to moderate specific learning disabilities. You need to be confident that the submission types are comparable in difficulty and that you can mark them using the same criteria.

Assignment length

As a rule of thumb, assignments should take students around 75 hours for a 30 credit unit. If the biography is worth, say, 50% of the credit, students should be spending around 37 hours searching, reading and analysing materials, planning a structure and writing the biography. Level 3 students might manage 1500 words of a fairly descriptive piece, whilst level 4 students might be expected to produce around 2000 words with some more sophisticated links to the subject material. Alternative formats could be negotiated: 10 minutes of an audio file for level 3, or 15 for level 4, for instance.

Group work

Students could work in pairs on this type of assignment – groups may not be the best selection as there is a limited range of roles for this kind of task and the final submission needs to be a coherent piece without variations in style.

Plagiarism issues

This kind of assignment is relatively unusual so plagiarism shouldn’t be too much of a problem unless well-known subjects are used. In that case, the use of software such as Turnitin is probably a good idea for written submissions.

 

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