Our first year undergraduates have been completing visual essays as part of their assessment on the 'Reading Cultures II: Ideas and Ideologies' module. Working in groups, students were asked to use a number of theoretical frameworks to assess the broad cultural significance of a particular American icon. The finished essays addressed a range of topics, including Freudian readings of American civilization through the Hillbilly, discussions of Judith Butler's notion of performativity in relation to Barbie, and the application of Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque to the figure of Elvis.
Dr. Wendy McMahon brought in this form of assessment as a way of developing key teamwork, organisation and planning skills, whilst prompting students to think about how they can disseminate their research in innovative and exciting ways. When working on these projects, students were encouraged to explore how certain icons are produced as visual texts and assess their significance in shaping how we view American culture. This type of work is not designed to replace essay and exam writing, both of which continue to be a central part of the course, but is a way of complementing these more traditional forms of assessment.
As first year AMS student Ellie Bishop commented, "It's refreshing to be assessed in a way other than by exams or academic essays. I think it works particularly well in terms of this modules as the study of icons is a visual practice." Reflecting on the benefits of the assessment in terms of her overall experience of Reading Cultures, Becky Borrows added, "I thought the module as a whole allowed you to experiment and use different types of media, for example creating videos and blogging, which was exciting...The visual essay requires teamwork, playing to individual strengths, planning and time management. If you plan like a normal essay it makes the rest more enjoyable as you can back up your plan with a variety of pictures and videos that you may not even have know existed...If you struggle with technology it can seem quite intimidating at first but there is help available and it encouraged you to learns and expand your technological knowledge."
Below are a selection of the best visual essays that were submitted this year. Please feel free to comment on these efforts below.
Elvis by Charlotte Moore, Naomi Messenger and Jamie Cansdale
Native Americans: Problems of Portrayal by Becky Borrows and Jack Perkin
Barbie in the US and Abroad by Megan Brewster, Nathan Packham and Emily Eastwood.
The King: Elvis Presley by Eleanor Thomas, Hannah Laking and Jess Brown
The Hillbilly: The Repressed American Subconscious by Ellie Bishop, Kathryn Thompson and Jay Slayton-Joslin