Open assessment task controversy

A topic close to my heart raised by Chris Betcher in his blog, has sparked debate and given the opportunity for many to voice their opinions (and frustrations). Chris teaches at PLC, Sydney, and blogs about the controversial move his school has taken by having open assessment tasks, testing not content memorisation, but student response using what is available to them, eg. the web, iPod, mobile phone, etc.

John Connell responds in his blog:
“Chris is worried by some of the comments that have been posted in response to the Sydney Morning Herald’s piece on the PLC move. He has no reason to worry, unless, like me, he simply feels concern for the evidently lamentable understanding of the nature of knowledge and the purpose of education of all those who are criticizing the move”.

And yes, we should all be worried. I agree with Chris, John and others about the desperate need to revise the examination systems, and this presupposes a re-evaluation of and massive shift in thinking where education or learning is concerned. As far as I’m aware, this shift is only happening in small, isolated pockets of the education world.

I laughed at John Connell’s vivid image of students vomiting their learned knowledge ‘onto a piece of paper on command’ (ready, set, go!) and laughed even harder when he added his frustration with exams being written ‘with a pencil!’ Actually, there’s nothing funny about that at all. Capable, intelligent students are in some cases compromising their results when, like my older son, currently doing year 12 International Baccalaureate (heavily exam-based), they have illegible handwriting and they have to write quickly in exams. This is a laptop school.

My younger son (same laptop school) comes home regularly with homework he has copied from the board into his exercise book – a set of questions, out of context, which the students have to tackle using the latest in pedagogy – INDEPENDENT RESEARCH – which, according to the teacher, is comprised of solitary googling – passing up a trip to the well-resourced library, with no scaffolding, etc. (excuse the pent up frustration with an otherwise excellent school, but I think many schools would be similar).

Homework is also up with the latest technology, and projects regularly assume the form of tables or powerpoint, with powerpoint being the all-time favourite. My son feels guilty if we have a discussion before his homework task, because ‘it’s cheating’ (the independent bit). I’m trying to change his mindset, telling him that it’s the learning process that’s important, and that this process gains much from discussion and questioning, in fact, that’s what learning is all about. It’s a struggle to change from a focus on ‘the right answer’ and ‘a good mark’.

When I was doing my teacher librarian degree through distance education at Charles Sturt University, we had an online student cohort and I used to ask all the ‘dumb questions’. I thought I was slower than everyone, until I started getting emails from students secretly thanking me for asking the questions they were too afraid to ask. Mindset CHANGE needed here!

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3 Comments

Filed under Education, Teacher librarians, Web 2.0

3 responses to “Open assessment task controversy

  1. Glad I could raise a smile, Tania – and it’s always a pleasure to find a great blog I was (I am ashamed to admit) previously unaware of.
    John C

  2. winsongreen

    Good post Tania. I read the original newspaper article and thought it was an interesting idea. Will it change the way our VCE exams are done? Our students need to know how to find the information far more than they need to have it poured into their heads! Yet, I know of a school where the belief is that students are not learning unless the board is covered in writing. These students are saying “But you’re not teaching us anything.” It’s a pity that they (teachers and students there) don’t realise that the teacher doesn’t need to be the “expert”. What they do need to be able to do is to help the students to access, and then manage, the information they can gather from the big, wide world out there.

    Cheers, Karen

  3. tsheko

    Thanks for your comments, Karen. I wonder if we’ll all be in the same place at any time in the future.

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