Saturday, February 26, 2011

Moving beyond traditional assessment

Vasi Doncheva recently tweeted a link to Tony Bates' blog which mentioned this article about online assessment. (Attributions can be so complicated!) In the article, author Judith Boettcher makes the point that online assessments offer numerous opportunities for engaging, informative assessments. She asks the question, 'Why is the traditional paper so prevalent in assessment, and how can we move beyond it to alternative evidence of student learning?'

In his blog post about the article, Tony Bates comments that Boettcher's article 'has major implications for course design. It suggests that online technologies allow for different learning outcomes and objectives, rather than merely mirroring the learning objectives set for classroom teaching. Indeed, thinking of how best to assess ’21st century skills’ should be an integral part of decision-making around course content, forms of delivery, and choice of technology.

How often do we even consider the 21st century skills in our course design? I fear that, all too often, we continue to design courses for 21st century learners using 20th (or, if Ken Robinson is to be believed, 18th) century paradigms. I was recently asked why I was spending time building an interactive online content package when our students already had a textbook. The question was asked sincerely, and out of a desire to reduce staff workloads, but it made me wonder if, in the often very traditional world of tertiary institutions, we are missing the boat by not focussing our energies as much on educating the decision makers as we do on educating the students. As Judith Boettcher indicates, we may spend all the time in the world creating engaging online resources for students, but if we continue to resort to the traditional assessment forms of papers and exams, we may miss opportunities to identify 'real understanding and growth' in our students.

Are instructional designers, content developers and e-learning specialists brought too late in the course design process, when key elements such as assessments are already decided, approved and cast in stone. How we go about bringing a transformation in assessments at tertiary level that reflects the transformation in learning, literacy and the information-soaked world in which we live? I'm not sure that I have the answers to this... I hope that someone out there does!

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