On the 25th and 26th of August I attended the eAssessment Scotland conference in Dundee. A sound-byte repeated several times during the conference was that we should “assess in the same way that students learn”. This was partly taken to mean the inclusion of social media and electronic devices that the stereo-typical student immerses themselves in. However there was a more concrete issue raised both by one of the posters (voted best at the conference) and in Donald Clark’s typically boisterous keynote: students (along with everyone else) are used to the benefits of word processors, which allow creating drafts, re-editing, copy and pasting to rearrange the structure etc. Expecting students to go into an exam, take-up the seldom used pen and paper, and write essays from start to finish in one go, simply won’t get the best out of them.
Assessing students in ways that they only even have, and only ever will use, in exams, also goes against another increasingly mentioned principle: authentic assessment. For me this is the more important point. As well as assessing in the way that students learn, we should be assessing in the way that current practitioners work. The aim is to recover some of the benefits of the apprentice systems – students working on authentic tasks under guidance. When education was industrialised the high ratio of students to teachers made this approach unfeasible; but current technologies promise to make it a realistic option once again. For example technologies such as ePortfolios can make large volumes of student materials more manageable, while simulations allow students to perform tasks in a controlled and individually guided way. Technologies such as SIMPLE combine the benefits of both.
A presentation by Sharon Flynn was particularly relevant to our University’s new eSubmission strategy, since she discussed the results of using Turnitin in various ways. Reassuringly our plans matched what she presented as the better model – where students can see and reflect upon their originality reports. To help students cope she suggested reiterating very clearly what is expected of submissions (paraphrased below):
- Reading around the subject: some highlighting of ‘un-original’ work is not only expected, it is required. Students should be gathering together relevant literature; but it should be referenced.
- Originality: A substantial amount should be original. It isn’t only about finding the answers and slotting them in to the right places. Some areas of the report should be completely free of any highlighting, showing that it is original thought.
To avoid making the post too long I’ll briefly summarise a few more interesting presentations below, and I’d be happy to discuss them further with anyone that is interested.
- Steve Wheeler’s keynote included two interesting systems of assessment. Ipsative – where students are only measured against their previous achievements – and triadic – where student work goes through a sequence of self, peer, and tutor assessment (with scores averaged).
- David Hopkins discussed ‘Time-constrained papers’, where students are given a topic and expected to submit within 24 hrs, with collusion mitigated by requesting that students incorporate experiences specific to their own work-places.
- Pamela Kato presented a serious game to train student doctors on how to manage their own stress levels, with their heart and sweat rates providing inputs to the game.
- Bill Foster and Christian Perfect presented their NUMBAS system; providing a free, open-source assessment tool, specifically aimed at maths subjects.
- Karen Barton presented an authentic assessment system for Law students, where groups form law firms, and operate in a fictitious town, on realistic tasks.
- Donald Clark had scathing criticism for the current systems of education and assessment, including the ‘paucity’ of formative assessment, too frequent summative assessment, how all lectures should be recorded, and how ePortfolios are ‘cul-de-sacs’.