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Posts Tagged ‘change

One of the replies to my tweet about the parliamentary response to stolen exam papers — electronic scanning and and marking of scripts — was this tweet.

I had to look up the product and service and found a UK-based website and YouTube video.

Apparently SurpassPaper+ allows students who opt to take electronic versions of an exam on their own devices alongside their peers who opt to take the paper version.

There are several advantages of taking the electronic version. The ones that stood out for me were:

  • Students use a platform they are already accustomed to.
  • The submissions are immediate and do not incur physical handling, storage, security, and transport costs.
  • Proctors can monitor student progress with an app and intervene if necessary.
  • Students can continue on an alternate device should their own fail them.

If all this seems innovative compared to the old-school method of high-stakes exams, then we should cast our eyes on how some standardised tests are regularly taken on Chromebooks in US school districts.

The change is also just an incremental one. Evolutionarily speaking, the new test animal is not that different from the generation before. It has not replaced the old one and actually lives alongside the incumbent species as a minority and novelty.

The bottomline is this: The medium has changed, but the method has not. Changing the medium is comparatively less disruptive and easier than changing the method of assessment.

To change the method is to face the usual suspects of barrier statements. I share just three and pose three questions as responses.

The first barrier statement is: We should not abandon what is good about the old or current method. My questions are: What is objectively good about it? From whose perspective is “good” defined?

The second barrier is an excuse: Now is not the time. My response are: If not now, then when? How will you know when the right time is? What if the right time is too late? How can we make it the right time?

The third barrier is a generalisation: Change will take time. My response is:
Of course it does. But when will you start?

The breaking news that refused to die was about the A-level Chemistry papers that were stolen last year. This time ministers in Parliament discussed how to prevent this from happening again.

The suggestion: Scan the papers and mark them electronically.

For me this was braking news — I had to stop to think about what was actually going on.

Superficially, the issue was about the security of high stakes examinations. While student results are important, the larger messages were missed, i.e.,

  • The exams are still handwritten on paper.
  • They are still reliant on factual recall.
  • The assessment is inauthentic — there is no referencing, no cooperating, etc.

This pays lip service to the supposed 21st century competencies that we are supposed to develop in learners. If we are to do this, we need to pull assessment into the same century.

Like it or not, assessment is the tail that wags the dog. Summative forms of assessment like end-of-course examinations are terminal activities — they are the tail. However, they dictate what is taught, how it is taught, and shape how students opt to learn — they wag the dog.
 

 
The examination in question was the GCE A-Levels. These are taken by girls whose next destination is likely university, and boys who become men via military service (if they are citizens and permanent residents).

However, these students take paper-based exams much the same way they did ten years before when they were in primary school. Heck, I took my A-levels on dead trees and I am older than some trees!

I now mentor, advice, and teach some future faculty who still clutch at paper as the be-all and end-all technology. They teach and test like a book and by the book. The assessment tail does not just wag the dog; it trains the dog and shapes its psyche as it rewards and punishes the dog.

Am I overreacting? After all, the issue was exam paper security and not assessment redesign. But why was the latter not the issue?

Just consider the logistics and costs. The papers had to be transported to the United Kingdom. They had to be stored and provided with some modicum of security. They also had to be transported securely to graders and then brought back centrally for more processing.

Even if every script was scanned and marked electronically, there is still the cost of scanning every page and retraining the graders.

These exercises help the agencies involved in the processes — question-setting, grading, analysing, transport, storage, security, administration, etc. You might think of this as an assessment mill that is dependent on paper mills.

But what of the current student and future employee who has to rely less and less on paper and paper-led habits? Our duty is not to keep the assessment and paper mills alive. It is to help our learners thrive in their future, not our past.

Take writing for example. We still have to write, but how much on paper and how often?

The medium is part of the message and shapes the way we think and craft those messages. For example, I am drafting this reflection in MacOS Notes, I have a web browser with these tabs open: WordPress (for the blog entry), ImageCodr (for the CC-licensed images), and several online references.

The writing skills might be the same — for example, logical paragraphing — but the need to write shorter paragraphs is the new expectation. This reflection is already too long for most people. TLDR. So I also break the message up into chunks with photos (aww, cute doggies and baby!).
 

 
But back to the main topic of changing assessment. I am not suggesting that we throw the baby out with the bath water. I am pointing out that the bath water is still there, getting filthier by the minute, and threatening to drown the baby.

If this analogy is not clear, the paper-based exams are the problem because we do not question their purpose. They solved the problem in the past of how to sort students, and they still do that. But they also create unnecessary stress and entrench old mindsets, neither of which are good for our students.

It is time to throw the bath water out, not build a better receptacle, replace the water, or somehow have self-cleaning water.

It took a few semesters of sensing and planning, but I eventually implemented something that helps future faculty write better.

Every semester I provide feedback and grade electronically-processed assignments. Every semester I am reminded how brilliant graduate students do not necessarily know how to communicate properly in writing.

I have suggested to administrators that a writing course be a prerequisite to the one I am involved in. But this doing this is neither easy nor a priority.

What is a priority is graduate students reading a resource and taking an automated quiz on plagiarism. This is important and it is easy to do in an institutional learning management system (LMS). But an LMS, no matter how advanced, cannot show graduate students how to write better and provide timely feedback on authentic writing.

Knowing that institutional change takes an inordinately long time, I provided a series of tips in my blog. I reminded my classes to refer to them before writing and embedded URLs to the same in my online feedback.

I also made a concerted effort this semester to highlight the resources in class and set aside time to talk about the importance of writing ability.

The ability to write clearly, logically, and critically is vital to future academics. They might not only need to prepare teaching philosophies and curricula, they also need to write reports and apply for grants.

The future faculty I have met seem to forced to play writing gambling game. If they get a supervisor who is nurturing and cares about how they write, they hit the jackpot. If not, they struggle from course to course or they reinforce bad writing habits because no one tells them otherwise.

Studying at the doctoral level requires an immense effort and truly independent work. However, this does not mean that graduate students should do work blindly or without scaffolding.

I have already discovered how effective my simple resources are. I have not torn out as much hair this semester as previously. Many of my learners have followed basic reminders like shaping a premise and writing in paragraphs.

I did this without doing anything contrary or disruptive to the course I facilitate. If anything, the tips add value to it. This could be an example of how not asking for permission first is a good thing.

Change is not about asking for permission first. It is about asking for forgiveness later.

This opinion piece, Not a good idea to start school later, is not about the good of the students. Instead, it is about their parents, the employers of the parents, the transport companies.

Now these other stakeholders also have a say. The problem is that their say is dominant and overwhelms what is important. That is why there is no change. The question of why we do not start school later is perennial and so are the standard answers.

The problem is not just that we keep revisiting this issue and not change anything. It is that we normalise the cycle, and in doing so, lose sight of what is important (the learner) and instead dwell on what is urgent (everything else).

What is important is seldom urgent. And what is urgent is seldom important. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I am rewarding myself with a short break after intensive week of evaluating assignments.

But even as I relax by playing Pokémon Go (PoGo), I observe behaviours that remind me why implementing change is so difficult. People keep old habits because they see only what is around them.

Niantic, the company behind PoGo, recently re-released past legendaries Kyogre and Groudon alongside the current Rayquaza in an attempt to spice things up. What players collectively catch more of determines what normal but rare (or rare-ish) Pokémon hatch from eggs.

There is currently 85K people in a Facebook group of PoGo players in Singapore. A group poll showed that an overwhelming majority favoured the catching the current legendary, Rayquaza. The experience is fresher (it was just released) and the consequences are better (the rarest normal Pokémon will hatch from eggs).

That said, a poll and an online community does not necessarily represent what happens on the ground.

If you find a gym with a five-star rating (legendary boss), you have a one in three chance of battling Rayquaza, and a two in three chance of battling the other two.

If the poll held true, you would expect most people to invest time, effort, and their free or paid passes into the Rayquaza raids. Very few walk away from non-Rayquaza raids even though they said they would.

A few who stay might not actually be raiding. They might just be there for a friend or are clearing up their game inventory. But even a cursory glance will reveal the telltale tap-tap-tap battling motion of the players that remain.

What people say is not what people always do.

Likewise, when there is change, it is easy for people to buy-in to rationale, but it is not as easy to take ownership of action. I have shared before how buy-in is a state of mind while ownership is a state of being.

Buy-in is a state of mind. Ownership is a state of being.

So why is it difficult for people to take ownership and create change?

While there might be shared purpose, there might not be shared plans or strategies. In PoGo, there might not be a social signal to abandon a futile raid, so people keep raiding even though it is short-sighted. In schooling, there might not be a signature pedagogy, so teachers keep doing what they have always done.

An edublogger I respect once wrote that is it important to not just look up and beyond, but also look down and at what is immediate when implementing change. I agree, but only to a point.

Only the skilled and wise know how to balance the actions of keeping their eyes on the prize while dealing with the daily grind. Ignore one or the other and you lose your way. The PoGo players see only what is immediate — people around them raiding and using up a daily pass — so they do not change tactics. Teachers see what the majority of their peers are doing — buying in but not taking ownership — and they do the same.

PoGo is a game with consequences that are relatively short-term and do not have much of an impact outside the game. However, teaching indifferently has consequences that are long-term and go far deeper. Both benefit from shared strategies and looking beyond the immediate.

Sometimes I leave home without my wallet. In my wallet are various forms of identification, of which the most important is my national identity card.
 

 
I wonder if I am asked to prove my identity that what I have on my phone will suffice. After all, I use a biometric to unlock it. Alternatively, I use a code that only I know.

Once the phone is unlocked, I can launch apps with another round of verification with biometrics that show:

  • Scans of my identify card and passport
  • Credit cards in Apple Pay
  • Bank accounts via apps
  • Store accounts via apps
  • Various bills and statements via apps

I also have photos and videos of me and my family on my phone. My social and other media apps are linked to my identity.

Like most people, I would freak out if I lost or damaged my phone. If there was a fire at home, the first thing I would reach for is my phone. If there was an emergency, my phone would be my lifeline.

I am certain most people would relate to this sentiment: You wring my phone only from my cold, dead hands.

Our phones are insidiously and significantly linked to us. So why are some classrooms still so phone-resistant, phone-absent, or phone-ignorant? Why are administrative bodies still so paper-based? Why are both so stuck in the past?

I am not asking you to prepare for the future. I am just asking that you stay relevant to the present.

The best way to start change is to identify what needs changing in the first place. This seems so obvious as to sound redundant, but you have probably seen how blind change initiatives can be.

So if we are to desire change in schools, we must know what is wrong with them. Here are two videos that outline some critical issues.


Video source

The video above highlights how most schools:

  • Are based on outdated Industrial Age values.
  • Do not promote student autonomy.
  • Perpetuate inauthentic learning.
  • Do not accommodate student passions.
  • Provide little or no room for individualisation.
  • Rely on lecturing.


Video source

The video above uses social conflict theory to explore social inequalities that school reinforce or perpetuate. While the video focuses on schools embedded in US systems, the principles apply to any system that claims to be based on meritocracy.

Both videos shed light on what areas need urgent change.

Both videos are also not perfect — both equate education with schooling. They could have drawn distinctions between the two terms because both seemed to desire movement away from schooling and progress towards education.

Schooling is about enculturation. Education is about self-actualisation.


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