The Rethinking Assessment and Learning Conference held in Sydney on Wednesday the 29th of October, 2014 highlighted a number of interesting ideas. One interesting idea raised by Professor Eric Mazur, Dean of Harvard University, that struck a chord with me due to my experience of teaching in Singapore, is how assessment is done by the person who teaches the course. This is an interesting idea for me because in both Malaysia and Singapore where I have taught, this has not been the case. While this could probably have been due to the whole course being evaluated at the end of the year in one project or in one exam, the final assessment task/exam has always been evaluated by a third party. I have always questioned the fact of how fair and balanced we can be as evaluators especially since we have a vested interest in our students achieving high grades. Beyond this, there is also the issue of how, having such familiarity with the work of our students, we may see more value in it than the value that would be seen by an external marker. How fair would we be as markers considering these issues? It must be clear that at this point, assessment is being done to evaluate learning, mastery of subject and skills i.e. Assessment of Learning (NSW Syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum, n.d.) and therefore it is important that equity is achieved for all students. This becomes more complex as most of the evaluation is subjective and therefore this will mean that individual markers may interpret the task differently and so may evaluate it differently.
Another interesting idea raised by Prof. Eric Mazur was the use of team based learning to deal with the shortfall in knowledge. This would be Assessment as Learning to enable the students to learn through assessment. According to teambasedlearning.org, teams should be made up of people with the most diversity (Michaelsen, 2013) i.e. not the same gender or social groups and using a transparent process of creating a group. Maintaining a diverse group is important to avoid Groupthink. Social psychologist, Irving Janis coined the term Groupthink which occurs when a group makes poor decisions because group pressures due to high cohesion leads to the ‘overridd[ing of] their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action’(Janis, 1982). This form of learning has been useful in Problem Based Learning especially when the project is a real world situation and requiring a myriad of talents, skills and knowledge of the team members to evaluate the problem, bring their unique perspectives to the solution and learn from each other. This could also take a form of Assessment for Learning as students begin to consider the skills, talents and knowledge they will need to be successful. Another form of Assessment as Learning that I have found really valuable in class is Peer Evaluation/ Feedback. It is important though to remind students to be honest so that they avoid making comments to make the presenter feel good but to highlight the best features/characteristics of the work while commenting on features that could be improved with suggestions on how they could be improved. This will enable students to see the best examples and clarify for them the criteria that are being used to evaluate the work. I have found this to be a very valuable form of assessment as students begin to evaluate the work more objectively while questioning what they are evaluating and how this is evidenced in the work they are evaluating.
Yet another discussion that was of value was the idea of evaluating ‘super skills’ i.e. capabilities as we know it. The importance of this discussion was interesting especially since the ASMS is considering how we could evaluate these capabilities in our Learning Studies program and it clearly reflected that we are thinking through these ideas at the most valuable time when industries are considering how these soft skills i.e. collaborations, negotiations and interpersonal skills could be assessed to enable them to consider the best employees/consultants for the job. It would be interesting to consider how both industry and academia can collaborate to consider the best form of evaluation for these soft skills. It would be the best time to consider how these partnerships could be formed. Although in the ASMS we seem to be doing it quite seamlessly, it would be valuable to provide more opportunities for students to showcase these capabilities, and community partners to provide the external evaluation of these capabilities. For example, in the International Science Fair (ISF) Module, Dragon’s Den, students had the opportunity to pitch their products to members of the community and the panel members were full of praise for our students’ ability to present their ideas quickly and succinctly, reflecting some of the soft skills that are required in the 21st Century. A challenge for us here, I suppose is how to formalise the feedback from the members of the community for our students.
One area of the conference that could be further improved is the final session which turned out to be more of a sales pitch for various programs with individual representatives making rather negative comments about each other’s products. Although it was couched as friendly bantering it was in poor taste and on the whole reduced the value of the conference despite the interesting and valuable ideas discussed in the initial sessions.
Janis, I.L., 1982a. Groupthink. Boston Houghton Mifflin Company. pp 9
Michaelsen, L., 2013. Team Formation for TBL. [Online]
NSW Syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum, n.d.. Assessment for, as and of Learning. [Online]
Available at: http://syllabus.bos.nsw.edu.au/support-materials/assessment-for-as-and-of-learning/