Jillian Harris is an Assistant Professor of Dance in the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University. In 2009, Jillian was asked to develop Modern Dance technique standards that could be applied in formal assessments of students’ performance. Prior to this time, no standard assessment process existed and professors relied on their own methodologies. Once the Temple faculty agreed on the standards for each level of Modern Technique, she developed a video-based assessment approach for mid-term and final examinations for studio-based technique classes. However, she still found the rubric-based grading model an inadequate means of articulating areas of improvement. She now uses ACCLAIM as a platform for her midterm and final assessments in her Modern Technique and Repertory classes. Jillian spoke with us about how she uses video and ACCLAIM to enhance her students’ comprehension of their technical proficiency.
ACCLAIM: Can you explain the assessment standards that you developed in 2009? How did you incorporate video?
JH: Instructors would develop one to three movement sequences that they would then teach and expand upon over several weeks leading up to midterm and final exams. The students were placed in groups and their performances of these sequences would be videoed and “scored” on a checklist. In Modern Dance Technique Level IV, for example, a score of “5” indicated that a student was very proficient and confident in a particular area, while a score of “1” meant they were not.
When I was using the checklist, I would bring students into the classroom after the midterm and final to review the footage and have them describe three elements of their performance they were satisfied with, and three elements that they felt they needed to improve upon. I would then elaborate upon additional feedback I provided at the bottom of each standards checklist. This approach helped generate a dialogue between me and the students, and also amongst the students themselves. We investigated commonalities that existed in terms of what skills students were learning and worked on formulating strategies for improvements. At the final, I also included one-on-one meetings.
ACCLAIM: It sounds like video helped you to make a lot of progress! But you still found the rubrics really problematic…?
JH: Students tended to fixate on the numerical total at the bottom of the checklist rather than on the aspects of their performance they might refine. The only time they engaged in a conversation with me about their assessment was when they wanted to argue over their grade. The rubric did not provide the ability to notate specific moments of a student’s performance during the video, relying instead on a highly subjective judgment or impression. I wanted to provide concrete information about particular details related to the standards.
My dilemma reflects the ever-growing frustration over standardized, score-based tests. The arguments range from them being creatively stifling to culturally biased. As an artist, I also couldn’t escape the irony that scoring seems antithetical to the promotion of individualism within my field. Those of us who create are constantly seeking out that one unique gesture, motif, or image that challenges the status quo, whereas scoring seemed to encourage adherence to the “right answer.”
ACCLAIM: How have you been able to use Acclaim to offer more specific feedback?
JH: With the videos, my problem was that I had to critique a performance without referring in real time to specific moments I was referencing. I need my students to experience their dancing from the outside and then see comments corresponding to physical habits, tension spots, and inefficient movement behaviors that might impede their performances.
Video commenting, for example, allows me to point out where a student loses “outward” rotation or where they might consider their sense of musical phrasing. Likewise, I can also point out less specific areas for improvement that might prove difficult to articulate. I might, for example, tell a student that she is not integrating her upper and lower body. Without being able to show a student an example of this in her own performance, she will not understand what I mean. In the past, teachers were physically making corrections. Commenting, however, is much more similar to how coaches use video to improve the performance of professional athletes.
ACCLAIM: Do students have a chance to respond to your feedback?
JH: So far, students have not been replying to my comments. The way in which Acclaim frames a dialogue is still a bit foreign to them. But I really want them to respond… Still, they might not have anything to say in regards to my comments if their foot is clearly flexed when it should be pointed. There’s room to expand this into a dialogue.
Overall, their responses to Acclaim have been overwhelmingly positive. I don’t even have to ask them for their opinions. I remember when I first used Acclaim, and the students saw my comments. They said “This is so positive! This is so precise! I can see exactly what I am doing!” It really facilitates communication.
ACCLAIM: Tell us about your ideas for a four-year long student portfolio on Acclaim?
JH: In the future, I foresee developing a portfolio for each student at the beginning of his/her first year. Throughout the four years, their instructors could import a students’ course folder, consisting of videos of their performances or projects and feedback, into their main portfolio folders. When I mentioned this idea to the students, they were thrilled. One student commented that it would be “so cool” to see how their performance had improved from the first day they took Modern Dance Technique Level I to their final semester of Modern Dance Technique Level IV. What skills had they improved upon? What areas of growth remained? A video portfolio would make it much easier for them to have something concrete to reference when reflecting upon their own development.
ACCLAIM: Do you think video assessment and instruction could become an essential part of dance classes in the future? Have you ever seen dance being taught online?
JH: You will always have to have personal contact. But maybe, at some point, we can have holographic projections.
Jillian graciously provided us with a sample of a student performance and her comments from her Spring Modern Dance class. Kendra is the student in the front right corner. Check it out!