Making a bid for utopia: exploring authentic assessments and student agency.

Pete Bennett & Dr. Victoria Wright: University of Wolverhampton


Cue Cards

Extract: rhizome

Extract: poem


‘Making a bid for utopia is a temporal act. It considers the triumphs and transgressions of the past, articulating them in the present while conflating a possible hopeful futurity.’ (Spry, 2016;42)

In this session, we will explore pragmatically the proposition that students would be better served by being positioned as active and creative participants in the processes of assessment. We will play out practically the challenges we faced and issues we uncovered in creating a new Masters level module in which our intention was to extend the ways in which students could respond within a formal assessment framework. In seeking to recognise and respect their different education professional experiences, we focused on the historically contingent issue of who we individually are now as practitioners. Like Waugh we wanted to “shift the locus of control, and responsibility, in the classroom from the teacher, to the space between us and the students” adding that “it’s in this space that we position the core artefact of our collaboration – the students’ work, our primary text” (Waugh, 2016, p119).

Delegates will be positioned as active and creative participants in the investigation, evaluation and development of alternative responses to assessment. The session will progress through a sequence of connected tasks which will also allow them opportunities to find solutions of their own. This progresses in four stages:

  • Baffling the regulatory discourse: An invitation for critical discussion: Sharing the development of the module, its self-evident and self-defeating learning outcomes and its assessments.
  • Channelling Dweck’s concept of ‘growth mindset’: assessment as participation and theory as theory you can use, not theory that will use you.
  • Group discussion with short extracts of ‘theoretical’ literature: participation in the community
  • Final reflection: the rhizomatic model of learning: a mapping exercise

This workshop will revisit assessment within the context of Rancière’s insistence that “Reason begins when discourses organized with the goal of being right cease” (Rancière, 1991). He writes also of “an equality in act, verified, at each step by those marchers who, in their constant attention to themselves and in their endless revolving around the truth, find the right sentences to make themselves understood by others”. We play with the idea that achievement might be better measured in the qualities of ‘turning up’ and being part of the community. This is participation with community building woven but also actually about each individual turning up and saying this is how I want you to see me/ how I want to see myself (these aspects of me) at this moment in this space at this time.


Rancière, J. (1991), The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford: Stanford U.P.

Spry, T. (2016) Autoethnography and the Other: Unsettling Power through Utopian Performatives. Oxon: Routledge

Waugh, C. (2016) Connecting Text in Bennett, P. & MacDougall, J. (Eds.), (2016) Doing Text: Using Media After the Subject. Columbia University Press (Auteur)

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