In education, the term exhibition refers to projects, presentations, or products through which students “exhibit” what they have learned, usually as a way of demonstrating whether and to what degree they have achieved expected learning standards or learning objectives. An exhibition is typically both a learning experience in itself and a means of evaluating academic progress and achievement.
Defining exhibition is complicated by the fact that educators use many different terms when referring to the general concept, and the terms may or may not be used synonymously from place to place. For example, the terms capstone exhibition, culminating exhibition, learning exhibition, exhibition of learning, performance exhibition, senior exhibition, or student exhibition may be used, in addition to capstone, capstone experience, capstone project, demonstration of learning, performance demonstration, and many others. Educators may also create any number of homegrown terms for exhibitions—far too many to catalog here.
In contrast to worksheets, quizzes, tests, and other more traditional approaches to assessment, an exhibition may take a wide variety of forms in schools:
- Oral presentations, speeches, or spoken-word poems
- Video documentaries, multimedia presentations, audio recordings, or podcasts
- Works of art, illustration, music, drama, dance, or performance
- Print or online publications, including websites or blogs
- Essays, poems, short stories, or plays
- Galleries of print or digital photography
- Scientific experiments, studies, and reports
- Physical products such as a models, sculptures, dioramas, musical instruments, or robots
- Portfolios of work samples and academic accomplishments that students collect over time
Generally speaking, there are two primary forms of exhibition:
- A multifaceted assignment that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students, typically during their final year of high school or middle school, or at the end of an academic program or learning-pathway experience (in this case, terms such as capstone exhibition, culminating exhibition, or senior exhibition may be used).
- A project, presentation, product, or portfolio that teachers use as a form of summative assessment—i.e., an evaluation of student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement at the conclusion of a defined instructional period, such as a unit, course, semester, program, or school year (in this case, terms such as performance exhibition, learning exhibition, or student exhibition may be used).
Schools and educators may use exhibitions as part of a wide variety of educational and instructional strategies, such as community-based learning, project-based learning, or proficiency-based learning, to name just a few. While exhibitions are diverse in both content and execution, they are typically evaluated against a common set of criteria or standards, using a rubric or scoring guidelines, to ensure consistency during the evaluation process from student to student or exhibition to exhibition, or to determine whether and to what extent students have achieved expected learning standards for a particular assignment, lesson, project, or course. Exhibitions may be evaluated by a teacher or group of teachers, but in some cases review panels of peers, community members, and outside experts—such as local business leaders or scientists—contribute to the evaluation process or provide students with constructive feedback. Some exhibitions are even public events open to anyone in a school community. Students may also be asked to provide a formal reflection on what they have learned and created that describes how well they did in meeting either expected or self-imposed learning goals.
Exhibitions are typically designed to encourage students to think critically, solve challenging problems, and develop skills such as oral communication, public speaking, research, teamwork, planning, self-sufficiency, goal setting, or technological and online literacy—i.e., skills that will help prepare them for college, modern careers, and adult life. Exhibitions may also be interdisciplinary, in the sense that they require students to apply skills or investigate issues across many different subject areas or domains of knowledge. Exhibitions may also encourage students to connect their projects to community issues or problems (also see community-based learning), or to integrate outside-of-school learning experiences, including activities such interviews, scientific observations, or internships (also see learning pathway).
It is important to note that exhibitions are typically purposeful teaching strategies designed to achieve specific educational outcomes—i.e., they are not merely “show and tell” opportunities. Although exhibitions can vary widely from school to school in terms of structure, evaluation criteria, and learning objectives, they commonly require students to share, explain, and defend their project design, theory or action, or results (as in the case of a scientific experiment, for example). Whether students solve a complicated math problem, write a position paper on a social issue, develop a business plan, or produce a work of art or engineering, exhibitions require them to articulate their ideas and respond to questions and inquiries from teachers or other reviewers. A few examples will help to illustrate these general instructional intentions:
- Writing, directing, and filming a public-service announcement that will be aired on public-access television.
- Designing and building a product, computer program, app, or robot to address a specific need, such as assisting the disabled.
- Interning at a nonprofit organization or a legislator’s office to learn more about strategies and policies intended to address social problems, such as poverty, hunger, or homelessness.
- Conducting a scientific study over several months or a year to determine the ecological or environmental impact of changes to a local habitat.
- Researching an industry or market, and creating a viable business plan for a proposed company that is then “pitched” to a panel of local business leaders.
Most criticism of or debate about exhibitions is not focused on the strategy itself, or its intrinsic or potential educational value, but rather on the quality of its execution—i.e., exhibitions tend to be criticized when they are poorly designed or reflect low academic standards, or when students are allowed to complete relatively superficial projects of low educational value. In addition, if teachers and students consider exhibitions to be a formality, lower-quality products typically result. And if the projects reflect consistently low standards, quality, and educational value year after year, educators, students, parents, and community members may come to view exhibitions as a waste of time or resources.
The Glossary of Education Reform by Great Schools Partnership is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.