By: Christine Champion
Christine Champion outlines how she tried a more creative way to assess her MSc students in the Business School.
What better subject area to take a risk and try out something new in assessment than on the entrepreneurship module? The initial idea was to use mind mapping, which is an approach usually creditied to Tony Buzan (1988). Mind maps are specifically designed to move away from traditional western linear thinking towards thinking that is more radiant. It is claimed to encourage integration and synthesis of concepts. Our external examiner, when we approached her about the idea, commented that it ‘takes into account the diverse cultural profile of the student group’.
Last year we tried it out and so far, the results seem to justify those expectations.
Building up to the mind map
Students start by conducting a literature review of key concepts in the Entrepreneurship literature. The brief then charges them with finding original and creative ways to reference sources by creating a hand-drawn map on A3 paper. In addition, they prepare for a 15 minute one-to-one viva with course tutors about their mind map. The viva provides an opportunity for students to propose the rationale behind their map, to explain how they organised the information and expand on linkages between key concepts which they found in the literature. By posing open questions, tutors can draw out students’ understanding and assess their critical thinking. We ask about the mind map itself and about their overall learning experience.
Students’ reactions and comments
This was not the first time that students had encountered the idea of recording information via a mind map. Students were introduced to the process in a previous module entitled ‘Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise ’. Nevertheless, this time around, they were generally quite apprehensive when it was introduced as a method of assessment. By the time we gathered feedback at the end of the academic year, most of their comments were positive. Students said they found the use of colour, icons and symbols to be an aid to learning and understanding. It encouraged them to use metaphorical thinking and this proved a useful means of interpreting and expressing complex ideas. It helped them understand the context and meaning of what they had found in the academic literature.
Here are some typical comments:
“It was challenging because it forced you to think in a more structured way!”
“I found that it introduced me to a more effective way of identifying key variables and then putting them in a format that was much easier to understand and remember”
“A chance to practice how to organise the ideas and theories innovatively and effectively”
“I used the mind-map to visualise the key concepts… it felt like a real achievement, like feeling I had climbed Mount Everest.”
This method of assessing learning grew out of discussions with colleagues in Westminster Institute and with the external examiner. Once we started recreating the assessment, we kept the concept under continuous reflection and review. For tutors, assessing mind maps was a much more enjoyable means of assessing students’ knowledge and their understanding of the key issues in the literature. It provided an opportunity to get to know the students. Feedback provided the course team with a rich source of evidence that the students had felt stretched and challenged by the task.
The mind map competition
The module had a fitting finale: a display of all the maps with members of staff and students invited along to discuss and admire the results. It provided a vibrant end to a semester’s work and most of the students attended. We all voted on the map that was the most creative and awarded a prize – the winner is shown to the below.
Buzan, T (1988) Make the most of your mind. London: Pan Macmillan
With thanks to Tatiana Bachirova and Alison Morrison.
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