Yeah, what about assessment?

I am still trying *not* to think about assessment in cck09 very much. When you “do” instructional design, there is the persistent unquestioned assumption that outcomes + assessment = good design.  So you have to let that go in an open course that’s rocking the whole PLE/N thing. But I found this in my travels, by Stephen Downes:

I want to change the system of assessment in schools because right now we have tests and things like that that are scrupulously fair, particularly distance learning where we outline the objectives the performance metrics and the outcomes and all of that. I want to scrap that system. I want testing to be done by at random by comments from your peers and other people and strangers based on no criteria whatsoever and applied unequally and unfairly.

And people say, “Well, why would you want that?”

And I said, “Well, that’s the way the world works.”

That may be the way the world works, but is that how “education” or “schools” should work?  That old chestnut: what is school for? I have trouble with the idea that schools are only or mainly for preparing us for “the real world”. But that’s not the point – Downes goes on to say:

But the point of that remark is to try to pull apart this idea of universality, everything being the same and learning. Do we need, as is suggested, do we need the iron hand of justice in our classrooms?

We do have a shaky sense of “objectivity” in grading that we don’t like to talk about much. Unless there are clear right and wrong answers (which there are sometimes, but very often NOT), it gets muddy. we do our best with rubrics, criteria, and experience, but anyone who has ever marked a stack of essays knows, there are lots of grey areas, and you end up making decisions, which are subjective, however defensible and rational they are. And so they can be construed as “unfair”.

This idea came up again at a conference I was at this week on learning design – in response to the assessment/evaluation question, someone raised the issue of peer review journals as a form of assessment that we “trust”, and this is essentially what Downes is saying too. Sure, you can argue that there is criteria for reviewing journals, but the ones I’ve done (granted, just a few) have never provided me with criteria to use. And so, I gave as thoughtful a critique as I could, and hopefully whatever comments I made, plus the comments the other reviewers made, amounted to a decent evaluation of the work.

So i ask myself: if I was taking cck09 for credit (and thus, actually doing the assignments), would I be OK with my peers in that course, and/or say, the people I follow on Twitter, assessing my work?  And you know, I would.

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