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Posts Tagged ‘complexity

Whether it is at a talk or a workshop, there will always be participants who seek to pack as much as they can in as little time as possible so that they apply it as quickly as possible.

There is nothing wrong with that unless they miss the point of the session. I am not talking about the content, but about nuance.

Life is not black and white; there is some grey nuance to it. -- Pilou Asbaek

You can ask the same question to ten different experts in a field and you are likely to get ten different answers. This will make the people I described above impatient and unhappy because they want bite-sized concepts.

Nuance recognises that there are different aspects of the same thing. This is rooted in the complexity of an idea or practice.

Nuance is also about different perspectives of the same thing. This acknowledges the subjectivity of a concept or behaviour when applied in different contexts.

Substituting nuance for novelty is what experts do, and that is why they are never bored. -- Angela Duckworth

It is important to simplify or conceptualise because that is how our brains operate. But it is equally important to not be simplistic.

There is another saying — the devil is in the details. Solving a problem or implementing change is not easy. The difficulty, complexity, and subjectivity of such processes should be embraced instead of feared. It is nuance that makes the journey worthwhile.

I get what this tweet is trying to say: Do not let someone else’s non-constructive negativity get to you.

However, the illustration about losing $10 or 10 seconds is an illogical comparison. The issue is not the number, it is the value of what is lost.

The $10 might be the cost of a sentimental item, e.g., a cheap bracelet charm that is the only reminder of a lost loved one. The 10 seconds might have been a short tirade against your ability, race, or value system.

So try as you may, you might not be able to compartmentalise your emotions from your logic.

Many in the realm of schooling and education like to talk about holistic approaches, and yet they are guilty of separating feelings from fact.

We learn only what is meaningful or what we hold dear. These are often tied to emotions like great joy or sadness. Do not take my word: Read up on socio-emotional learning.

We should not muddle with numbers or create unnecessary silos. These oversimplify to the extent that they are not just unhelpful. They are harmful if we take them at face value, internalise them as values, and exhibit them as unquestioned behaviours. We owe it to our learners to be better than that.

Today’s reflection is part one of two on project work.

I read with a combination of interest and concern a recent chat in #edsg about grading project work.

It started with a legitimate question:

Equally legitimate answers streamed in like:

All that was interesting. Here was what created dissonance for me. The task was scaled up (project work), but its “measurement” was not. This was like needing to solve a problem in quantum physics but only being armed with Newtonian physics. Or like needing to build a skyscraper and walking in with a sandcastle construction kit.

Good sense prevailed towards the end of the conversation:

But I doubt any book or sane assessment literate expert will recommend what I am about to. Focus less on objectivity and embrace subjectivity when measuring more complex social phenomena.

To understand why I make that recommendation, we need to consider the escalating complexity of various assessments.

Assuming a multiple choice quiz is designed well, its measures are as objective as you can make them and you can even automate the grading. But even in such a black and white situation, human errors and interpretation in phrasing a question and providing answer options leave room for whether an answer should be A or B.

Move on to a more complex marking situation like essays. In the assessment domain, this is the realm of the rubric. In a more subjective space (the essay), graders attempt to standardize their reactions on scales of, say, 1 to 5. They might also conduct standardized marking exercises where teachers grade a poor, average, and exemplary essay, and then compare results. Ideally, a grading pattern follows what teachers intuitively already know is poor, average, or excellent. In reality, the points and grades rarely, if ever, coincide.

Now consider group project work. It mirrors working life in that it typically involves cooperation and/or collaboration, multiple tasks of varied complexities, minimum standards to meet, and different expectations among group members. Unlike working life, teachers resort to guidelines and rubrics because it seems logical to be as objective and as fair as possible.

But should an escalated task be measured with a simplified yardstick?

I grant that teachers will attempt to create more detailed and complex rubrics and might even have auditors (assessors of assessors and assessments) of project work. The instinctive teacher part of me views this as trying to contain or simplify a complex and subjective task.The wiser educator part of me realizes this is not only an exercise in futility, it is also an unrealistic model to perpetuate.

The context of the original Twitter post on grading group project work was to test understanding and application of content. You can certainly design rubrics for that.

But here are what most rubrics do not address if they focus largely on content:

  • What if a group cheated by relying on a knowledgeable parent or by recycling a previous project?
  • Suppose one group did their project slow and steady and another waited till the eleventh hour, but both delivered as expected. What then?
  • What if one or more members in a project group ticked all the right boxes, but those members are extremely unpleasant?

Are teachers going to compartmentalize and focus on just the content or are they going to embrace the complexity that mirrors real work and life?

You do not rely on a rubric when deciding who to vote for in an election or the winners of a talent contest. The human factors are too varied and complex. The judges might have rubric-like tools, but they also have X factor vetoes. I have been in far too many interview and judging panels to see guiding forms abandoned because they are inadequate and ineffective for both assessment and evaluation. That is real life.

Project work is an opportunity to examine outcomes outside the box, not more of what is inside. Creativity, resilience, strategizing, problem-finding, problem-solving, and so much more. All these are traits and abilities that are important in life and work, but difficult to put in a test or rubric.

A complex task requires a complex evaluation. Teachers must know what they are getting into when they design and employ project work. If they do not, they should find some professional development to help them make informed decisions.

Rubrics are too inadequate a tool for project work. As @hsiao_yun mentioned, there are multiple strategies and tools to assess and evaluate the multiple facets of project work. Teachers need to be skilled in all of them if they are to embrace the complexity of processes and products of project work.


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