The Tribal Method of Assessment: CMCL 301

Reflecting Diversity in Assessment

“Students develop a better faith in learning…Some say to me that this is how all of university should be” -Dr. Ron Glasberg


Dr. Ronald Glasberg is an associate professor in the department of Communications, Media and Film in the Faculty of Arts. His Communications and Culture (CMCL) courses are very popular among students from all faculties. There are four major CMCL courses that Dr. Glasberg teaches. The first is CMCL 301: Cultural Foundations, which uses classical texts to analyze the time period between 2500 B.C. – 400 A.D. and the various  civilizations that existed during that time. The major focus of the course is looking at the fundamental cultural assumptions that were made by people in the civilizations being explored. Dr. Glasberg encourages his students to consider their own cultural assumptions during the course. One way he does this is by giving students an unprecedented freedom in how they are assessed, challenging the idea that only the instructor of a course can determine the best way of demonstrating learning.


One of Dr. Glasberg’s main philosophies when it comes to teaching is to promote freedom for students. His course rejects the notion of teacher-student hierarchies, where the instructor decides how students should communicate their knowledge. Dr. Glasberg feels that this idea often works to undermine learning.  He describes his class organization as the ‘tribal method’ since it adopts the structure of non-urban modes of social organization that existed prior to the more hierarchical forms that characterize the great civilizations of China, India, and the West – hierarchical forms that are now proving themselves to be unsustainable  Each individual gets to decide what they would like to contribute to the course. Students can choose to be assessed in any way that they would like.

“The goal is to learn the course material, that is, to read it, understand it, and create something that reflects and demonstrates that reading has been done and understanding has been achieved.” –From Dr. Glasberg’s Course Outline, Fall 2017

Early in the semester, students are responsible for submitting a plan for what types of assignments they will be doing, how much each will be worth and a schedule of when they will be handed in. At the end of the term students have to write a mark brief, which outlines how their assignment choices demonstrate their learning of the course material.They have to propose what grade they believe their work is deserving of, and provide evidence that justifies that grade. 55% of the entire course grade is allotted to these student-selected assignments. Students are encouraged to use their strengths when coming up with potential assignments to complete during the course. They are often very creative and do everything from written essays to musical compositions to dance performances. Dr. Glasberg allows anything, as long as students can demonstrate that it shows their learning of the course material effectively.

Students are initially shocked by the idea of choosing their own assignments. Some prefer having their assessments chosen for them ahead of time, but most agree with Dr. Glasberg that this is how all courses should be run. The students note how there is a strong development of trust of their instructor and their peers throughout the semester. They also feel that they have learned more, because their motivation has come from a desire to learn and demonstrate learning, rather than a requirement.


Dr. Glasberg admits that many of his colleagues, as well as those working at an administrative level at the university do not always encourage his method of assessing students, as there is not the predicted or usual distribution of grades in his course. There is a fear that students will take advantage of the freedom and opportunities they are given. However, Dr. Glasberg notes that the spirit and understanding in his class is one that promotes integrity and honesty. Students produce high-quality, interesting work that they are proud of, and they are able to explain the reasoning behind it. He also defends the use of his method because he can see the distinct shift in student focus from being on grades to being on learning. Students leave the course with a changed attitude towards not only the content, but also to their education, because they have experienced a customized learning experience.

-Ashley Weleschuk