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assessment for learning

Working virtually: Treat each thing as if it were alive

hillman

When I started thinking about this post I wanted to write about ‘team’ work and how to do it virtually. Team seems such an overused word it means little anymore when used to refer to groups of people working together physically or virtually.

In my work I am often asked often how to manage groups of people who are not co-located but have to collaborate. There is literature on it but it mostly says just ‘use what we know about teamwork in the physical and find ways to apply it to the virtual’.  Trouble is, this advise does not work very well. Or, more accurately, if you have the right people for the job they will make the advise work. But then, they would make any advise work. It matters to me to find out what is the difference that makes the difference practically not theoretically.

I set out at the beginning of this year to learn about virtual collaboration by becoming a student again. It is easy to think about the theory of effective team work and say to my own students, this is how I would apply it to working virtually. It is quite another to say, this is how I made it work. This post is about how I made it work. All I offer here is a personal view, informed by many years of teaching and facilitating groups for the purposes of learning and getting business done.

I want to compare a negative experience with a positive one. I studied with the Open University (#H817) earlier in the year and we had to to get a project done in project teams. This ‘teams’  were little more than a collection of individuals mandated to work on a disposable assignment, in the sense the sense David Wiley uses the term:

These are assignments that students complain about doing and faculty complain about grading. They’re assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away.

Much of that course was designed through disposable assignments, this was managable when working in isolation, but took a new level of complexity and learnt helplessness when having to engage others in order to succeed at something nobody (including the educators) cared about.

Continue reading “Working virtually: Treat each thing as if it were alive”

Mind-shifting on assessment

Assessment is the process of measuring a person’s knowledge or skills. It’s not a science; it doesn’t prove anything, but passing a test or completing a practical task implies a certain level of competency. A special type of assessment (called formative assessment) is used to aid the learning process (this is called ‘assessment for learning’).

Bobby Elliot, 2003.

Assessment 2.0

This table has changed my life! Well, may be not quite, but it has changed my perspective on assessment. My environment is higher education, private higher education. This has its own issues when assessing student’s work. I teach on a Masters in People an d Organisational development at a business school in the United Kingdom. Sometimes, students come from client organisations, sometimes they can become clients after the course, and sometimes they come to work for us as consultants. Transparency in assessment is important here, as is layers of peer review and checking standards of assessment across the faculty. How do we know that standards are comparable across the faculty? We implement a riguourous assessment process that is defined each time we start working with a new cohort – self managed learning works within a framework  that Elley (1993) defines as collaborative assessment. Her focus is on how power is used in the process – ‘power together’ as compared to ‘power over’ the student or the educational establishment:

This model of power assumes that student, peers and staff work together to secure a common view of assessment and its outcomes, based on hearing and understanding different perspectives, and seeking to secure agreement which values all perspectives. This model is essentially collaborative, dependent on reaching consensus.

There are delightful and tangled issues that arise from this assessment model, not least the point of friction between traditional university assessment methods and how we assess students at my business school. Until today I had always seen collaborative assessment as a cross I had to bear for working at a non-traditional university. Now I see that I have been working at the leading edge of assessment for many years and have never stopped to critically reflect on the heutagogy that is implied in self managed learning as an approach to education.

Notification Center

What Elliot (2008) crystallised for me in his table above is that in traditional education we shoe horn evidence for learning into a shape fixed by the educational establishment in order for it to award its accreditations. This is contrasted with what in the literature is defined as ‘assessment for learning’:

“the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there” (ARG, 2002).

This definition obscures the core question: who determines what counts as evidence of  arriving ‘there’? In my world of work this is a collaborative process revisited afresh at the start of each cohort. Most of the literature I have read on this focusses on schools and how assessment needs to be redefined to support pupils on learning rather than exercise power over them by assessment of learning. This is not my area of work, so I will say no more than that I understand that there is a lot of prescriptive work that needs to be done to help teachers and educational government departments understand this distinction. Self managed learning is being used in schools by some pioneers but I know little about how successful these initiatives have been. I count myself lucky that my focus on assessment is in dealing with the downsides of being at the other extreme of the assessment for learning continuum: When I started to read about assessment for learning from my ivory tower, I just asked: Is there any other kind?

I want to focus the rest of this post on the content of Elliot’s table above. A key insight is summed  up by Al-Rousi (2013) and focuses on the type of evidence that supports learning:

Elliott [is] focused on the use of digital evidence [… ] naturally occurring, [ i.e.] already existing […] not created solely for assessment purposes, [manifested] through multimedia, [and] distributed across different sources.

Elliot is indeed saying that instead of shoehorning evidence we might choose to purposefully build in the use of naturally occurring evidence into our assessment process. He is further saying that we need to use web 2.0 tools to develop an e-assessment strategy and this he calls Assessment 2.0. Self Managed learning works with naturally occurring evidence, but has no e-assesment strategy embedded in its approach. Collaborative assessment in self managed learning ensures that the evidence to be sought is outlined in the learning contract upfront and this can be any type of evidence that supports the learning outcomes being defined. We encourage students to use wide sources of evidence such as video files, audio files, essays, reports, flowcharts, lesson plans, storytelling, painting, spreadsheets and self-assessment statements.

What we are not doing enough of is looking at the use of digital evidence to support learning in an embedded way. If we define e-assessment as anything that involves digital media, then we have been doing it for years – word document are submitted, we add our formative feedback via Track Changes, use spreadsheets to tabulate data, create research reports, etc. This is not what Elliot intends to suggest when he talks about assessment 2.0 in my view. He quotes Downes (2006) notion of a personal learning environment and posits the need for a Personal Assessment Environment (PAE) where students use the type of web 2.0 tools exemplified in his table to critically reflect on what it means to provide evidence for learning, set it up before getting on with the business of learning, harvesting it for insights regularly and then ordering it in a meaningful way to demonstrate achievement of a given standard which in my domain is Masters standards. This notion is game changing for me. It implies that digital literacy would  no longer be a choice for our faculty or our students, that an e-assessment strategy has to be agreed and implemented to further support students that goes beyond just allowing students to present their evidence as e-portfolios (which by the way we still do not allow for administrative reasons: students have to print to copies of their portfolio on paper and hand in by a specific date…).

Whilst Self managed learning meets most of Elliot’s characteristics when assessing for learning in terms of its principles of operation (e.g. being collaborative, peer and self assessed) it falls down when assessed against his ‘tool supported’ characteristic. Some may argue that what matters most is that the principles are adhered when developing effective assessment strategies in any educational domain, that tools used are a secondary consideration. I disagree with this assertion. Our thinking is shaped by the tools we use. Writing a blog is not the same as writing a letter or and essay. Assessment for learning in a self managed learning Masters means supporting students in the creation of a PAE to gather tangible evidence through their 18 months learning journey. Our challenge in this is almost as hard as that of other educational sectors when shifting from one preposition to another. We already assess students for learning, but how might we design assessment 2.0 into our work?

Notification Center-1

A modest experiment I am carrying out is the use of Pin-Interest to support evidence gathering and dialogue for one of my student’s learning contract. The board’s theme only makes sense in relation to the student’s learning contract, we agreed to keep comments general enough for the board to be public but specific enough that the student could track her learning journey when it came to writing up. We also agreed that the board would be part of the evidence used to support her self assessment statement on achievement of learning goals for the Masters. However, whilst we are using it for formative feedback, I fear that, at best, screenshots of the board will be all that makes it to the final portfolio.

My understanding of what Elliot proposes with Assessment 2.0 is that we need to incorporate the distributed nature of digital evidence (amongst other characteristics he discusses) into the way we assess students rather than students having to shape their evidence into a fixed format limited by low digital literacy in certain sectors of the educational establishment. In embedding these tools into the formative stages of learning we would be enhancing the quality of their thinking and preparing them to develop a digital identity that can support them in their future career goals – given the ever increasing need to learn to function effectively online for most professionals.

Al-Rousi, S. (2013) ‘Does WEb 2.0 = Assessment 2.0’  http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/oublog/view.php?user=1124720 

Assessment Reform Group (2002) Assessment for Learning: 10 Principles http://assessmentreformgroup.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/10principles_english.pdf

Eley, Ginney. “Reviewing Self-Managed Learning Assessment.” , 1993. http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/resources/heca/heca_lm09.pdf.

Elliot, Bobby. “Assessment 2.0.” , Sept. 2008. http://www.scribd.com/doc/461041/Assessment-20.

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