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Posts Tagged ‘dog

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.

You are biased and I am biased. If you choose not to admit that, then you are stubborn and biased.

We are biased because we learn things that help us survive. Things like talking or acting a certain way. We are biased even when we learn to balance a bike a certain way.


Video source

This amusing and informative video illustrates just that. If you ride a bike that turns right when you try to turn left, you cannot ride it even if you already know how to ride a normal bike well.

The creator of the video declared: Once you have a rigid way of thinking… you cannot change that even if you want to.

Most people can relate to this if they think about value systems or mindsets. Change agents learn this lesson the hard way and very quickly when trying to implement change.

But an anecdote with multiple demonstrations, no matter how intriguing, is not necessarily representative.

The man and his son illustrated that it was possible to unlearn something deeply embedded. He learnt to ride the “backwards bike” in eight weeks; his son did it in two weeks.

He then made a statement about neuroplasticity that reeks of Prensky-speak that should be ignored in this context. Neuroplasticity is a physiological process that refers to how the brain can change throughout life.

While it might be true that a young brain learns faster than an old one, we also retain the capacity to unlearn and relearn throughout life. It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. It just takes time and effort.

One thing the video did not explore is mindset. This is not a function of brain physiology but of many other things like work culture, social environment, individual drive, risk-taking capacity, etc. We will change only when we

  • are aware there is a different way of doing things (e.g., just-in-time and just-for-me learning via Twitter)
  • realize that there is a problem with the status quo (e.g., meaningless mandatory workshops), and
  • think we have the capacity to change (e.g., mentors to guide).

If you want to teach an actual old dog new tricks, it will require practice and rewards. The process is Pavlovian.

If you want to change people, you must not only persist and incentivize. You must also address their mindsets.


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