Posted tagged ‘dialogue’

Challenging Assessment: What did the Fourth Biennial EARLI/Northumbria Assessment Conference mean by that?

October 8, 2008

There was a good blend of papers and delegates from 18 countries at this Conference which was set in Potsdam beside a beautiful lake.   Most of the delegates stayed in the same hotel which facilitated time for informal discussions which were indeed most enjoyable and we could take shelter during a rainy August.  

As at any conference there is always a hot topic which was assessment for learning and how to provide useful feedback was on a lot of peoples’ minds. The term feedback itself was in dispute with some researchers favouring the term feed forward (Dai Hounsell)  but perhaps what was more interesting was not the terminology but the appropriateness and timeliness of the responses given by tutors to the students. I was delighted to see that researchers such as Margaret Price, Karen Handley and Berry O’Donovan in their paper on feedback, together with Sue Bloxham and Liz Campbell from the University of Cumbria, were emphasising that feedback should be seen as embedded within an ongoing dialogue.  Their presentations are available in the book of abstracts. This notion of promoting a dialogue between student and tutor is one which Stuart Watt  and myself have been progressing with our development of OpenMentor   and Open Comment.  Both these systems provide automated feedback to the user and lets them know what they didn’t know! 

The three Plenary Lectures provided three different vignettes into current thinking about assessment. Eckhard Klieme  discussed a number of pertinent issues that impinged upon educational measurement which is of particular interest to all those involved in PISA testing. His presentation was entitled ‘Assessment, grading and instruction: Understanding the context of educational measurement’.  Of particular interest was Ruth Leitch’s topic which informed us about children’s rights, as enshrined in European law, with respect to the assessment process.  It was Dylan Wiliam’s Plenary which closed the conference and was aptly named ‘When is assessment learning-oriented?’  He interestingly challenged the notion of formative assessment per se and has devised a new definition with Paul Black which they hope will be published in a paper in 2009.  They state:

 “An assessment functions formatively when evidence about student achievement elicited by the assessment is interpreted and used to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better, or better founded, than the decisions that would have been made in the absence of that evidence.”

 The emphasis here of course is upon instruction but shouldn’t a definition include a subsequent action from the student?

This conference did not solely address forms of electronic feedback and assessment but participants‘ papers which focused in this area were invited to submit their contributions to a special issue of the British Journal of Educational Technology  which I am editing.  It should be available in March 2009, Volume 40, No. 2. So watch this space!



New tools or new ways to check it out?

June 19, 2008

This week Martin Weller  has been commenting on Brian Kelly’s  statement that the OU is the most popular university on Facebook. One of the contributing factors to this success Martin believes is the tool set which he has developed with Liam, Tony and Stuart .  These tools, such as the Courses Profile, My OUStory and Study Buddy help you check out other students on the course, find someone to work and share stories with.  So there are some levers to assist with building relationships and finding other folk to “check out” with. 

Creating opportunities for dialogue is an essential part of the learning process and is widely accepted as a suitable activity in the constructivist theory world.  However formal assessment has consistently failed to follow through with this more recent thinking because it squares the desire for improved constructivist learning against the demand for institutional and external reliability and accountability. So the official “checking it out” procedures have not kept apace or have they?

I was very interested to discover this week the notion of the “peer exam” which was developed by Vera John-Steiner . With the “peer exam”, (which is more reminiscent of androgogy than pedagogy), the students choose a topic they wish to explore; which is meaningful to themselves and their colleagues. Two to four students can take part in this process. They work out the questions they will use and prepare for the exam by reading around the topic and talking to one another. The students tape the examination session and write up the process as well as the results of their deliberations. Although this type of examination feels uncomfortable to begin with, it has had a profound effect on the students, some of whom have adapted this process to their own teaching. John-Steiner based this “peer exam” on Vygotsky’s theory of learning which emphasises the social nature of knowledge acquisition.  So what can we take from this?  Perhaps it’s best to check it out together?


peer exam 

Checking it out together: preparing for a “peer exam”