Using photo sharing for assessment in a Communication Design subject: A case study

In this assignment, students used Flickr to share images as part of a photography course. Over the semester, students completed five photography assignments (or projects). For each project, students took numerous images to practice and demonstrate particular photography techniques, uploaded 20-30 images to their Flickr account, then selected a ‘set’ of their best images to submit to the course Flickr group. The five individual projects were designed to cover the ‘five parts of the photographic palette’ (e.g., lighting, colour, movement, and so on). The assignment also involved a peer review component: each week students were expected to comment on three other students’ images. The peer review was worth 10% of the subject mark, and each individual photography project was worth 10%, making the whole Flickr assignment worth 60% of the subject mark.

Web 2.0 tool used: Flickr http://www.flickr.com

About the subject

This was an undergraduate first year subject called "Photography". During the semester students were taught professional photography techniques and given opportunities to practise using their cameras to take photographs that cover a range of techniques and styles.

This subject was offered as part of a communication design course but there were some students enrolled who were undertaking other degrees (e.g. business). There were about 150 students enrolled in this subject, including a mix of domestic and international students; students were mostly school leavers.

The lecturer who co-ordinated the subject had been teaching it for several years. Sessional tutors were employed to take some of the tutorial classes.
The lecturer had been running this assignment, in its current Web 2.0 form, for four years.

Assignment tasks and timing

The assignment was introduced at the start of semester (week 1). In the first project, students set up their Flickr account and experimented with taking photographs and uploading them to Flickr. Every two weeks students were given a new project asking them to take photographs that demonstrated particular photographic techniques or design considerations. Students were able to upload a large number of photographs and then select their six best photos for each topic to submit for assessment. They could change the photos included in each set until the assignment was marked at the end of semester. During weeks 2-12 students were expected to comment on other students’ photographs on Flickr (three peer review comments each week over 11 weeks; 33 comments in total).

Intended learning outcomes

The intended learning outcomes of this assignment were primarily skills and knowledge specific to the discipline or profession: i.e., professional photography techniques and skills. However, the peer review component of the assignment also aimed to develop generic skills by encouraging students to engage in critical thinking and analysis.

Why Web 2.0?

The lecturer had chosen to use Flickr on this course following an information session given by educational technology advisers at the university. Flickr was seen to provide an easier and more convenient way for students to submit their images for assessment. The open publishing component of the tool meant that students could all see each other’s photos, making it easier to undertake peer review and enabling students to view the work of their peers from outside their individual tutorial groups (each tutorial group had about 30 students, while there were 150 students enrolled in the course).

Setting up the assignment

At the start of semester, the lecturer established a Flickr group, using a name that identified the subject that students were enrolled in and the year, so as not to confuse it with the groups from previous years. The group was semi-private: that is, students had to request permission to join the group.

Introducing the assignment to students

The lecturer introduced the assignment in the first week – at the weekly tutorial class [note the researcher attended one of these classes to observe how the assignment was introduced to students]. Students were given a handout outlining Project One (Getting Started, Flickr, Lighting & Camera Controls). This included step-by-step instructions explaining how to set up a Flickr account, an overview of what students were expected to do, and the assessment criteria for that particular project.

Students set up their Flickr accounts during the first tutorial class and a substantial amount of support was provided to ensure this went smoothly. During the class, the lecturer took a portrait photograph of each student and put the photos on a memory stick. Students then moved to a computer lab where they each set up their Flickr account, following the instructions in the handout. This involved firstly creating a Yahoo account and then a Flickr account, using the ID format that was outlined in the handout: Surname First in CAPITALS then first name in lower case then _CD1/10 [subject code and year]. This ensured that all students used a consistent ID for their Flickr accounts that immediately identified them as belonging to this subject.

After creating the Flickr account, students were told to open Photoshop and the lecturer explained how they should resize their portrait images. They then uploaded the portrait photos as their profile pictures on Flickr.

Students were told make sure all the settings on Flickr were correct, including the time/location. If this was not changed to EST the date stamps on students’ contributions would be ten hours behind. The lecturer emphasised the importance of this to students: "It will look like you have submitted your assignment late and you will fail." Students for whom English was not their first language were given the option of customising Flickr so that it was displayed in their native language.

Students then had to search for and find the Flickr group, and send a request to join the group. The lecturer accepted each request, calling out students’ names as they joined the group to ensure no one was left behind. As this happened, the classroom screen displayed the photos of all the students who had joined the group. Because this was all completed in class, the lecturer was available to provide assistance to any students who had any difficulty.

The lecturer explained the process of taking many photos ("100 if you want") but then choosing a subset (20-30) to post to Flickr and a smaller subset to submit for assessment: "part of what you are learning in this class is selecting your best work."

When all the students had successfully opened their Flickr accounts and joined the group, the lecturer introduced the first photography project. The aim of the first task was to become familiar with Flickr: students had to take about 6 images and post them on to their Flickr site, then send the images to the group site. Students were told that "for this exercise we are not trying to be impressed by brilliance – we just want you to play with the Flickr site."

During the first class students were also introduced to the peer review component of the course. Students were given a handout providing examples of some of the vocabulary they would need to learn and write about an image. In addition, in class the lecturer noted that students were expected to be constructive in their comments and to avoid generic statements such as "that’s cool" or “that’s crap". Students were shown how to make comments on Flickr and how they appeared on the screen (the projector screen in the class displayed an example).

Supporting students through the assignment

The lecturer regularly monitored and provided feedback on students’ work. During the semester, the lecturer viewed and tentatively marked students’ work for each of the five projects, keeping a running sheet of the marks (numeric grades out of 100). These marks were not communicated to students. Instead, the lecturer emailed students to give them a general indication of how they were going: "good", "very good" or "excellent". If a student was given a low mark, the lecturer would contact the student by Flickr mail (private communication), noting that there were some problems with the work and suggesting that if the student wanted to improve their grade they could resubmit. Students were reminded to read the criteria again. For example, one student had initially been given a mark of 20 out of 100. The lecturer contacted the student to let her know that the work was not up to standard and that she had not sufficiently addressed the key criteria. The student was told that if she did submit a new set of photos, to send the lecturer an email to let her know. The student then submitted a new set of photos for this assignment, notified the lecturer, and her mark was revised to 60.

Formative feedback was also provided through the peer review process. Students were given the opportunity to improve their work, to take new photographs or choose a different set of photographs based on this feedback. The lecturer monitored students’ peer review comments and tried to comment on the work of students who had not received many peer review comments. She also made sure that students were being constructive in their comments. During the semester, she found that one student was being overly negative, so she sent him a private email to let him know that the comments he had made were not appropriate, and followed this up with reminders in class about the purpose of the peer review process.

Students were also given the opportunity to practice their photography techniques in class – students were expected to bring their cameras to class and they could go out and take photos during class time.

Marking the assignment

At the end of semester, students handed in a printout of their Flickr pages, and the peer review comments they had made. The lecturer and tutors then sat down at the same computer and marked all students’ work together. Students' final marks were based on the intial assessments the lecturer and tutor had conducted following each individual photography project. Explicit criteria for each individual project were provided to both students and sessional teaching staff. The lecturer and tutors used these criteria to assess students’ work during the semester, keeping a running sheet of "guestimate" marks for each project. At the end of semester the lecturer and tutors reviewed this running sheet and the students’ final set of work and gave students a final mark for the whole assignment.

To ensure the marking process was fair and consistent, throughout the semester the lecturer reviewed the tentative marks and feedback given by new sessional tutors and checked these against their students’ work. Tutors could also look at the lecturers’ marking and feedback to help inform their judgement. The lecturer photocopied sessional tutor’s marks and checked these against her own marking. She found this provided a check on her own marking as well as theirs: "if I have been too harsh on my students I make sure the standards are pretty similar." In some cases, the lecturer would ask a tutor to mark one of her student’s work: "There is always one student you feel like you’re not treating fairly".

Communicating the results

At the end of semester, students were given a numerical grade on a grade sheet. In addition, they were given feedback during the semester via email and comments on their Flickr sites.

Evaluating and improving the assignment

The assignment had been running for four years and over that time had been revised following feedback from both students and teaching staff and based on the lecturer's reflections about what had worked and what hadn't worked. For example, the list of peer review vocabulary given to students at the start of semester was introduced last year because students were not providing quality comments on their peers’ work.

Each semester the lecturer initiates a discussion forum topic about the Flickr assignment, asking students "What do you think about using Flickr in this course?" Students' comments in response to this question provide further evidence about how well the assignment is working.

At the end of each semester, the lecturer meets with the sessional teaching staff and goes over what has worked and what hasn’t: "I’m always open to suggestions for improvement". The sessional teaching staff are professional photographers, so their feedback also provides industry feedback.

The lecturer noted that she regularly reviews the assignment and makes changes when she feels some aspect of the assignment is not working: "I see a loophole here so I’ll change it." For instance, in the first iteration of this assignment, students set up their Flickr accounts out of class in their own time. This is now done in class because students needed a lot of support to get through all the steps correctly. The lecturer also decided to take students’ portrait photographs in class so that these were consistent and students were easily identified by their photos. In addition, changes have been made to take advantage of new features in Flickr as the technology has evolved.

Over the years the lecturer has received positive feedback from students about using Flickr on this course. In the course discussion forum students have made comments such as: "being able to see everyone else’s work has really raised the bar". The lecturer noted that students’ work has improved over the years, with more distinction and high distinction grades at the end of semester than there would be in a normal curve distribution. The lecturer believed this was because the peer review component of the course had an effect on students’ motivation: "students seem to really want to do better".

The lecturer noted that one advantage of using Flickr in this subject was that students could work on the assignment in their own time. In the past students had to print out whole rolls of 36 photos. Using digital images and submitting online means student no longer have to spend time and money on printing. The lecturer believed that using Flickr in this subject was particularly beneficial for learning about photography: "Viewing images online means seeing the photo how it has been taken. Images can be changed by the printing process. If you take one photo to different printers, each print will look slightly different in colour and exposure."

Selected documents from this case study

A list of suggested vocabulary to support students as they did the peer review component of the assignment: Photography peer review vocab.pdf

An extract of the handout students were given in class, describing the steps students needed to follow to sign up to Flickr: PhotographyIntroductionToFlickr.pdf

An extract of an example "running sheet" that a tutor used to keep a record of her students' progress and grading: TutorRunningSheetExample.pdf

Page source:
Gray, K., Waycott, J., Thompson, C., Clerehan, R., Sheard, J., Hamilton, M., & Richardson, J. (2011) Using Social Web (Web 2.0) Activities for Student Assessment: Resources for University Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from https://web2assessmentresources.wikispaces.com