Zee Opperman and the Great Tower Elevator

by | 12 Oct, 2017 | 1 comment

Assessment design that's outside the square, inside a box...

Word has it that Zee Opperman, co-ordinator of the fourth year Engineering and IT subject Entrepreneurship and Commercialization, does things a little differently in her class. I recently sat down with Zee to discuss the unique assessments she uses in her course.

So, what happens in Entrepreneurship and Commercialization?

The subject is designed to teach students about entrepreneurship and the business side of a product or service, and how they function in the real world. At the end of the day, the main deliverable is to prepare a business plan for a bank, investor, or a boss, to get funding for their business idea or project, whatever that might be.

I’m with you so far!

Right. There are five assessment tasks, three relating to a major project, one about developing team skills, and one with a traditional ‘theory focus’:

  1. Topic Quizzes (20%)
  2. Escape Room – reflective exercise (20%)
  3. Progress Report – peer review (10%)
  4. Business Plan – group project (30%)
  5. Elevator Pitch – oral exam (20%)

1. Topic Quizzes (20%)

Only about 20% of the mark has a traditional ‘theory’ focus – they’re a series of small in-class quizzes about the day’s topic. The rest is comprised of practical activities.

2. Escape Room – reflective exercise (20%)

One of the puzzle rooms at The Cipher Room, Newtown

One of the escape rooms at The Cipher Room, Newtown

Outside of the ongoing quizzes, the first main assessment is an ‘escape room’ task – team-based, immersive, lateral thinking puzzle solving, held off-campus at The Cipher Room in Newtown. Students actually go through the rooms in groups of eight, with one of our academics on hand to provide some guidance.

The assignment was born from realizing that we put so much emphasis on teamwork – we tell students they need to learn to work in teams, because professional environments require those skills, but we’re not teaching them how to do so, and how to overcome problems as a group. If you’ve got different personalities and perspectives in a team that clash, how do you overcome that gap?

That’s a really good question. I work with this guy, Ollie, and he’s… uhhh… I mean… How do you do approach developing those skills?

Before the escape rooms we examine the DISC personality model (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness), behavioural profiles widely used in industry and at big firms. Students undertake a DiSC assessment, and this is the basis of a team allocation. I make sure there are some traditionally “clashing” work personalities in the group.

After they’ve been through the escape room, we get students to reflect on their priorities, and the relative values they place on things like results, processes, relationships etc. They’re not actually graded on their performance in the room, but for the reflective piece they submit after, in which they discuss things like “what did I learn?”, “what do I do well?”, “what did I do not so well?”, “what can I do better in future?”, “what do I think of DISC profiles in general?”

That sounds awesome. And complex. How do you arrange for 350+ people to go on off-site excursions at different times?

We have available timeslots on set days, and students tell me what days they “can” and absolutely “cannot” do. This is for things like work meetings, other excursions etc. I then manually allocate teams based on their DiSC profile and the student’s availability. This is about an 8- 16 hour job since there is no program that can consider all these variables. I was able to come to an arrangement with The Cypher Room and negotiate a good price, since we’re essentially booking them out for a week.

We trialled it last session, and it ran smoothly. The student feedback has been fantastic – they have a real energy about them after they’ve been through it, and it sets them up for their major group project.

Which is developing the business proposal?

Yes – a new costed business plan or project, developed in groups of 3 throughout the session. The whole assignment used to be worth just 30%, but now there are three components, worth a total of 60%.

3. Progress Report – Peer Review (10%)

At the half-way point, 10% of the students’ marks are available for peer-reviewing – each student produces and marks their own report on their group’s progress against a marking matrix I provide, as well as three other reports chosen at random and reviewed anonymously through Turnitin Peer Mark.

This came about from student feedback saying they’d like earlier feedback – I can’t personally mark another 100 assignments, so I had to find a workaround – how can I get eyes on the assignments that aren’t mine or a marker’s? Students aren’t actually awarded marks for their report itself, but for the act of reviewing (though they can’t mark others unless they submit their own). This way, not only are they getting more and earlier feedback, but they’re also gaining a better understanding of the assessment criteria, as well as using critical evaluation.

4. Business Plan – Group Project (30%)

The major written component is their main business plan, which they work on through the semester and submit at the end for a group mark. Even though the overall group project is worth 60%, only this part of it has a shared grade. The assessment is a pretty straightforward opportunity to synthesise and apply the theory.

5. Elevator Pitch – Oral Exam (20%)

Finally, the latest assessment will be an investor pitch, based on their business plan. Individually, it’s either a 60 second investor video, or a 60 second elevator pitch… hopefully delivered in the Building 1 elevator!

Neat!

It’s been a really interesting process to develop, with lots of different considerations.

For instance, logistically it’s classed as an oral exam so that we can schedule it during exam week. Use of the level 1 lifts should not interfere with the university’s general operations, so pitches will need to be scheduled in blocks after 6pm, and on weekends. Students self-register for a time, or if they prefer, they can produce a 60 second video instead of delivering in person.

There are equity and access issues to consider too, as well as general university policy. There will always be two academics in the lift, and to balance it out students are allowed to bring any observer they want for moral support. This also helps students with anxiety, claustrophobia or performance anxiety, although they can also choose to deliver via video instead.

The delivery itself is low-stakes – only 5% is awarded for the aesthetics of the delivery, with 15% of marks awarded for the script, which is submitted separately.

I survey my students at the start of semester, and there was a very strong enthusiasm for the elevator pitch, so we’re now at the final stages of approval. We’ll hopefully have the first cohort delivering their pitches in a month or so!

These sound fantastic – I can really see them embrace the learning.futures values of practice-oriented learning and innovative face-to-face experiences. What led you to this point?

What I’ve been trying to strive towards is creating learning experiences that are authentic, but also fun. I think you can learn the same things in creative ways, so that’s what I’ve tried to incorporate for these students. Sure we can do our oral component in a normal, traditional classroom, but what if we could do it in the lift instead?

I think it adds an element that is genuine, but also very motivating. I think learning should be fun and you should enjoy it! That’s been my goal.

1 Comment

  1. chris w

    fantastic idea, but the B1 elevators are fast. Maybe slow elevators like B11? 🙂

    Reply

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