Saturday, February 26, 2011

PS, and by complete coincidence...

...this blog, in its own way, reinforces the points made by the article I mentioned earlier by Judith Boettcher. It looks at the problem of plagiarism and the importance of changing the way we assess in order to meet the challenges of a world inhabited, if that is the word, by Watson and his (its?) progeny

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!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Setting the bar

I was fortunate to attend the recent Inspired Impact conference in Palmerston North. There was a powerful line-up of keynote speakers (including Sir Ken Robinson and John Edwards), and some really practical and inspirational workshop sessions. The theme of the conference was Nurturing Creativity, which possibly doesn't seem immediately relevant to someone working in a School of Nursing, but there was wonderful food for thought.

Despite the international big names, the highlight of the conference for me was a session by Albany Senior High School Deputy Principal, Mark Ambrose, on e-portfolios. Of course, e-portfolios are the flavour of the month, but this school has been using them with both staff and students, for several years, so not only are they pretty far down the road of ironing out hitches, but they have a deep understanding of how e-portfolios can be used to enhance the student experience AND improve staff self-management. They've taken e-portfolios from being the latest pedagogical buzzword, and made them work in meaningful and understated ways.

This school also has scheduled classroom-free days called 'Impact Days', in which students work on self-designed projects. The limits of the project are that they must be designed to develop the students' knowledge, and they must benefit the community. So a group of students worked together and built a jet engine. They organised engineers and lecturers from the Albany branch of Massey to come and give guidance, and they built a fully functional jet engine. Along the way, they didn't just learn about engineering, but they developed professional networks, project management skills, research and collaboration skills, and a practical understanding of health and safety regulations! Another group is doing research into the restoration of a piece of indigenous bush near the school, including biodiversity studies, species counts, etc.

All students are required to maintain a reflective journal in their e-portfolios which they document their learning from their Impact projects. The level of introspection in some of the posts was truly impressive, and without a doubt those students have learned skills way beyond anything that could have been taught in a traditional classroom.

At a completely different level, my older son has just started Intermediate, and is enrolled in a laptop class at Ross Intermediate here in Palmerston North. Of course, school has only been running for a week, so I may be speaking too soon, but I am excited by the way he has already been completely hooked by his teacher.... She is dealing with students with a range of IT skills, and I have been so impressed by the way she is measuring their levels of understanding without them even knowing. For example, her class blog contains all sorts of bits of information which the kids need to evaluate in order to decide whether they are relevant to the blog, or should be tidied out of the way. Without noticing, my son has watched a video clip explaining digital narratives (in words he understands, of course) and he has evaluated a series of educational games.

This all begs the question... how are those of us who work in tertiary education preparing to meet the expectations of these students? Do we truly understand the level of the innovation that is moving through the school system, and are we really ready to meet it? Does the traditional (archaic?) structure of tertiary institutions, with its accompanying mass of committees (and we all know the story about camels and committees) condemn innovation at tertiary levels to always being slow and behind the times?

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