I agree in principle that we who work in education should be able to describe what we intend to do, and that it is important that we find a way to demonstrate to what extent we have met those goals.
But that principle is a principle of almost unimaginable complexity.
Rather than proliferate crude measures of recall or reductive “normed” evaluations of various templated essays, we should think much more deeply and comprehensively about assessment. To do this, we’ll have to start with what it means not only to learn something in the sense of committing it to memory, vital as that is, but also to understand it, to be able to sense and articulate and share the structure of that knowledge as well as the conjectures and dilemmas that surround it and propel it into new areas of inquiry. We need to think about domain transfer, and ask what kind of learning fosters the analogical and metaphorical thinking that leads to conceptual breakthroughs. We need to think about the teacher’s theory of other minds, as well as the students’. We need to master strategies of indirection that empower each other to imagine and perform what Douglas Hofstadter calls “perceptual regrouping,” that trick of the mind that can perform figure-ground reversals, separate sequences into smaller groups to yield new possibilities, and adapt Polya-esque heuristics to apparently novel situations to reveal surprising connections with apparently far-flung domains.
I have colleagues working as hard as they can to answer the need for complexity. I just hope their work can stem the tide of unthinking “learning outcomes assessment” that Jonathan Kozol pillories in Letters to a Young Teacher.
I really, truly do not think that Likert scales or uniform tests or other simplistic measures are up to the task of helping us map or understand this most profound practice we call “education,” by which I take it we mean a deliberate approach to learning, part of which must include learning about one’s own learning. In other words, the deliberate practice of leading another’s cognition into a richer and more effective relationship with itself.
Of empowering and advancing the brain’s self-shaping capabilities.
I don’t have answers, but I do have a deep intuition that we can best think about this kind of complexity by thinking about similar networks of complexity that have emerged in human experience. (Here’s where I wish I’d majored in anthropology.) There are two such networks I think about a lot these days: language, particularly written language, and the Internet. In this podcast, which records a presentation I did over a year ago at an EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative annual meeting at the invitation of my hero, friend, and colleague Chuck Dziuban, I try to think about assessment by thinking about the emergent properties of the World Wide Web. It seems to me very interesting that a big part of Web 2.0 has to do with assessment, evaluation, reviews, and so forth. Is there a way these emergent phenomena could suggest more comprehensive, inclusive, and meaningful modes of assessing learning? I don’t know, but I do think it’s a question worth asking.
Longtime listeners will hear some familiar themes in this podcast, but cast in a different light. The Shakespeare bits develop some ideas I first began to work on in the “Proof That Matters” talk I did for a K-12 Online Conference a few months before I did this talk. All the ideas here need a great deal more development. I do hope, however, that they’re moving in a more answerable direction than most of the assessment talk I’ve encountered during the last few years.
EDIT: Janet Hawkins alerts me to some parallel thoughts: