Students as partners in learning

With Mark Jackson

Photo of Mark Jackson

School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

What did you do?

Used student generated content to focus seminars; negotiated essay questions with students and offered a choice of format for a creative project.

Who is involved?

Dr Mark Jackson, Senior Lecturer Archaeology.

For my 20 credit final year module ARA3016 (The Archaeology of Byzantium and its Neighbours) I have always built the seminars around student presentations.  I divide students into groups and each week the groups cycle between different roles.  One week a group will be asked to give a presentation, the next week they will be asked to take notes and lead questions, the next to critically assess the content of the presentation the next to provide an informal summary. This works well because it means that while one group is presenting all the students in the room have to be engaged and have a contribution to make.

We cover different topics each week and I provide the groups with reading and resources to underpin their presentations.

Present paper This group will take notes and lead the questions Critical feedback

on the delivery of the presenters

Critically assess the content of the presentation Critically assess the layout of the slides Provide an informal summary
Presentation 1 – Ambéli a modern Greek village: life, cosmology and folklore Group 1 Groups 2,3,4,5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8 Group 9
Presentation 2 – Byzantine ‘Magic’. Powerful signs and apotropaic amulets Group 2


Groups 3,4,5, 6 Group 7


Group 8


Group 9


Group 1



As we have been unable to meet in person in 2020/21 I adjusted this activity, requiring the presenting students to create videos of about 10 minutes in length.  These were uploaded to a page on Canvas before the seminar.

Until now the module has been assessed with an essay and an examination. For the essay, students can use the background research for their presentation to generate an essay question with my help, giving them an opportunity to look in more detail at aspect that is of interest to them.  They have to agree this question with me in advance and the negotiation process here models the type of conversations we will have later around a suitable dissertation question.  I help them adjust their questions to suit their ability to provide a critical approach based on available literature and wordcount.

In 2020/21, in place of the usual examination, I have substituted a “Creative Project” – students had a wide choice of formats – infographic, video, tourist brochure, creative writing etc.  For this assignment I emphasised the importance of making academic content accessible to a wider general public.   Students were marked against a version of the standard rubric that we use in Archaeology with additional criteria for creativity and technical skill.

Does it work?

The videos were almost all without exception extremely high quality and I think achieved the learning outcomes very well. I could have delivered them, but I think it will have benefited those presenting to have done the work themselves and for the others I was able to explore any points missed in the presentations or which I wanted to bring out more or question in the seminars – so I thought the videos worked very well and made effective use of the time.

For their projects,  I was impressed both with the creativity that most of the students demonstrated and the way they underpinned their work with scholarly sources. As I plan the module for next academic year, I have opted to retain the creative project as it has worked well.

There were a few learning points for us:

  • I provided a discussion board as a place for students to submit question and feedback on their peers’ work in advance of the seminars, but found that the groups did not use this, finding it easier to deliver and receive feedback in the in-person teaching session (on Zoom).

Screen grab of Canvas page for uploading student videos.

  • The process of creating videos was unfamiliar for some students and they needed more targeted guidance on how to produce and upload the videos themselves. I set up a Canvas page for each group’s videos and gave students the ability to add their videos to this page either through Stream or via a ReCap assignments folder.   This was new to us all and presented a few teething problems.   A few submitted PowerPoints with individual slide narrations and to make sure that materials were available in time for the seminar I found I needed to convert some to video and add some on behalf of students.  This was manageable with this relatively small group (30 students).

Having marked a range of approaches to the creative project, I will supplement the marking criteria and detailed instructions given this year provide with some further guidelines for different formats (e.g. creative writing, museum information boards, archaeological site guides etc).

I will look to structure students’ time management more emphatically next year because a few students who left the creative project too late found it difficult to ‘pull off’ their project in a rush. The majority who put in the time (as required by the MOF) and who followed the instructions produced some really outstanding work.

Student voice

  • Some students articulated anxiety around the unfamiliar nature of the creative project – but I have been impressed with the quality and depth of the work they have submitted and many have clearly enjoyed the challenge.
  • In two cases the creativity was excellent but the content not strong. This was more difficult to mark and the marking criteria became very important for feedback and justifying the mark.
  • As often happens some students wrote in feedback that they really enjoyed the elements of choice and the ability to research their own questions/angles for both the essay and the project. By contrast one student said they felt they should be getting all their learning from the lecturer and not from other students and that I should be setting the assignment questions. Usually I have found students appreciate being able to pursue topics of their own interest, and that person’s comment contrasts directly with the majority of students who said that the areas of choice were exactly the aspects of the module they enjoyed.
  • On my feedback form, I asked students to give an indication of how much they engaged with the drop-ins and online materials and there seemed to be a correlation between those who engaged most and appreciated the modes of assessment and vice versa.

Graduate Framework

This approach develops the following attributes:

  • Creative, innovative and enterprising
  • Digitally capable

Staff can find out more about the Graduate Framework on the University intranet.

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