Visual Assessment

‘Visual assessment’ can refer to many different things. In subjects such as art and design, media studies or architecture, practical production of images or artefacts is a central part of the degree and is assessed in a number of ways, most commonly through the medium of the studio ‘crit’ where students display their work for discussion and critique by tutors and peers. In some others, the demonstration of practical skills must be assessed in action – for instance through OSCEs (Observed Structured Clinical Examinations) in medicine and other health professions. These assignment types are central to the way the subjects are taught and students should receive guidance from their course tutors, so they are not addressed in any detail here.

However, it is increasingly common in other disciplines to find visual assessment formats – such as posters, illustrated presentations, photo essays or web pages – being used to replace some written assignments, both to offer reasonable alternatives for students with disabilities and as a way to vary the assessment regime for all students and to help develop transferable skills.

Practical and creative assignments can be particularly effective to help students on more theoretical programmes to develop their critical and analytic skills. One problem is that staff may lack experience in setting appropriate tasks or assessing them as fairly and rigorously as written work, while students may be unsure how to approach unfamiliar tasks. They will need clear guidance and assessment criteria, and opportunities to develop new skills, benefit from formative feedback and reflect on what they have learnt before the stakes become too high.

Follow the links below for some case studies and other resources relevant to different kinds of visual assignments that may be helpful to staff considering introducing new formats for the first time.


  • Cattaneo ( Poster presentations in cultural studies) A comparison of the benefits of posters and powerpoint as visual aids for student presentations. Also includes a guide written with students on making posters by hand
  • The Use of Posters in Assessment: a Guide for Staff A very comprehensive guide by University College Dublin, includes case studies and links to relevant articles as well as practical guidelines
  • Creating Effective Poster Presentations This helpful site includes detailed advice on all stages of creating a poster presentation, with plenty of illustrated examples. Though primarily aimed at creators of scientific conference posters, the advice applies equally to other subjects and to poster assignments for university students. Downloadable resources include a Quick reference handout and sample evaluation sheets.
  • Advice on designing scientific posters Excellent site by Colin Purrington; a particularly useful feature is that the advice is linked to numerous examples posted to a special section of Flickr.

Photographic & video assignments

Comic strips and other graphic formats

  • Picturing to Learn This project involved science students and faculty from Harvard, MIT, Duke University and Roxbury Community College, and is part of the Harvard Envisioning Science Program. For their assignment, students were asked to create freehand drawings/diagrams/comic strips to explain specific concepts in quantum physics to high school students ie to non-experts. The project website contains a corpus of hundreds of examples with an explanation of the assessment criteria used – all focussing on scientific understanding rather than artistic skills .
  • Beyond Bibliographies: Comic Strip Assignment (from an introductory module on library research – includes assignment brief and scoring rubric)
  • PhD as graphic novel: Nick Sousanis Unflattening Harvard University Press 2015. Originally submitted as a PhD dissertation on the relationship between visual and verbal modes of communication, the format was perfectly aligned to the subject matter.  The richness and subtlety of the final work has been an inspiration in many other fields. Highly recommended.

Other Resources

  • Visual Assessment in Anthropology This website reports on the outcomes of a C-SAP-funded project, Visual Technologies and their Assessment in Undergraduate Teaching and Learning, carried by the Anthropology subject group in the School of Social Sciences and International Development, University of Wales Swansea. Students participated in the design of assessment criteria, and submitted 39 CD-ROMs (for the History of Anthropological Theory) and 8 visual ethnographies on video (for Visual Anthropology). The website includes a final report as well as resources and handouts – all of which would be helpful for anyone considering introducing similar assessment formats in other subjects.
  • Visual Plagiarism A very useful report by Margo Blythman and Susan Orr (originally published on the JISC Advisory Service on Plagiarism)  Reaching_A_Consensus:_Plagiarism_In_Non-Text based Media addresses the need for clarification of acceptable practice when using or ‘quoting’ other people’s visual work in creative academic assignments. As they point out, this has become relevant to a much wider area of higher education than art, design and media disciplines in university as more and more students are given opportunities to express their ideas in visual forms. See also the section on Attribution in Finding and Using Images on this site, and the following resources
    Garrett and Robinson Spot the Difference! Plagiarism identification in the visual arts
    Mic Porter Misrepresentation and visual quotation in design and art: a pragmatic approach


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