Assessing Learning

I came across a study called “Effective Assessment in a Digital Age”, and it underlined some key points in how assessing learners has changed due to technology. It’s not an in depth “this is what we should do” kind of paper, but it got me thinking. If you’d like to read the whole thing, you can just download it from the link above.

Evaluation scale
Image by billsoPHOTO via Flickr

I think we can all agree that giving people grades as the overarching form of learning assessment is no longer (if it ever was) providing the learner with clear feedback on what they know, what their strengths and weakness are, or where the learner “fits in” in comparison with other learners. An “A” student is not necessarily an “A” student, and the conundrum there is that we have no idea how to directly define what an “A” student is.

We’re currently at a place in education where almost everyone is recognizing that with new media comes new method. But we’re also sort of flailing about trying to figure out what the right approaches are. This, I think, is exactly what we should be doing. The education activists are learning too, and part of learning is making mistakes, adjusting expectations, and trying stuff out. How should we acknowledge the skills that are important in the 21st Century?

Our learners are learning skills that we ourselves might not have had in school, skills that we ourselves are only beginning to be able to concretely define, skills we are still in the process of learning. Our learners need to be acquiring self-regulation skills in addition to skills that are becoming more valuable in our digital world. It’s not that communication skills, for example, weren’t valuable before, it’s that nowadays communication skills are more complex than they were forty years ago. It’s not that collaboration wasn’t important “back then”, it’s that assessing collaboration today isn’t just watching which group of learners is working well together and creating an output that fulfills the requirements of whatever the assignment was. Here in the Digital World, we have the ability to capture and critique a wider range of skills that are not easily assessed in the real world.

Learners learn from their assessments, but they also learn from giving assessments. Peer-to-peer reviews are facilitating a range of cognitive activities that are becoming ever more important in today’s world. Again, it’s not that critical thinking, problem solving, or team work weren’t being addressed, it’s just that those thought processes have changed a bit because of technology (imho).

“Giving feedback is cognitively more demanding than receiving feedback”David Nicol

Instead of handing them an impersonal letter, number, or percentage that says “great work”, “good work”, “average work”, “below average work”, or “poor work”, we have tools to help us give learners personalized feedback. With online tools, we have a greater ability to support learners in their acquisition of new skills and attributes. Furthermore, learners can access feedback from instructors or peers when they need to, and the information is stored for them so that they have time to reflect upon the assessment as it was given. We can be more creative in the design of our assessments and curriculum. We can be more creative in the delivery of the curriculum too.

Marking achievements within the learning process serves to motivate and inspire learners, as opposed to demotivation because of a single assessment at the end of the program. This is also something we’re starting to do (check out Open Badges and this year’s Digital Media and Learning Competition). In addition, showing the pathway a learner takes, where along the pathway a learner stumbled, what a learner did to acquire a certain skill or complete a certain task – these things allow an outside observer to gain insight into how the learner got from point A to point B and who the learner might be as a result of the path he/she took.

I think that because of the education revolution that’s happening at the moment, because of our fortitude in helping them acquire skills for today’s world, learners are beginning to gain a greater understanding not only of the material presented but also of the act of personal growth. Our new assessment practices have to lead to learning as opposed to effective regurgitation. Learning is, and always was, a process.

Recognizing the journey into and through that process shouldn’t be something that only the assessor has access to, the journey is the destination.

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Assessing Learning

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