Why start a blog about assessment with pictures of knife holders? I have to confirm that no one was injured in the writing of the blog. There is a connection between the knife holders and evaluation. And you’ll have to read on to find out why.
Evaluation and assessment focus on the value offered by a particular action. In education, we focus on the learning value a student has taken from the learning experiences we have offered. This presents a huge problem for those of us tasked with proving that our teaching has enabled learning because students aren’t always in tune to this process. Industries are growing around making assessment more attractive to learners and one of the growing trends is gamification. Apps like Kahoot, and Quizizz allow for both formative and to some extent summative assessment but still follow a format where the learning designer decides what will be assessed and what will be left out.
This presents a problem for learners who have take something else from the learning offerings. These learners are not able to show what they have taken from the learning experience because their learning does not fit the format for the assessment. And while they may be able to ace the evaluation, the learning designer and perhaps even the learner herself will never know what she actually took from the learning offering. Students who do not have the opportunity to express their learning may not actualize it and so it may never be realised. This begs the question – what is the purpose of evaluation and assessment.
If evaluation is to produce numbers to reassure governments that tax dollars are well spent (whether for learners in basic education or for government services) then assessment that is driven by the learning designer is appropriate. These assessments are like the knife holder on the left above. There are certain skills, attitudes, and behaviours that are necessary for society to function as citizens have directed government to arrange. To this end, I’ve just read and been developing assessments from a book by Dr. Will Thalheimer. Performance-Focused Smile Sheets (http://smilesheets.com/buy-the-book/) recognises that likert-like assessments are entrenched in assessment methodology and that they can be refined and extended to both support student learning and give concrete, actionable feedback to learning experience designers about the learners’ intentions on returning to work after the learning experience and how the learning experience can be tweeked to be more effective.
My preferred form of assessment completely ignores arbitrary standards in favour of allowing learners the freedom to show what they have learned in their preferred mode of expression within the parameters dictated by technology and environment. This style of assessment is illustrated by the knife holder above, on the right. It flexes to fit the size of the knife rather than excluding certain knives based on their characteristics. These assessments give control to the learner and recognise that the learner is best suited to decide which format best displays their learning. This type of assessment allows the learner to show what they do know rather than rewarding or excluding learners on the basis of what someone else has decided they should know. This assessment form is most appropriate for learning environments where learning is broad and conceptual. Smile sheet assessments do not allow for this type of assessment and appropriately so.
These assessment approaches reflect differing approaches to education and learning. The first approach assumes that the teacher/instructor controls the learning and delivers content to the student. The second approach assumes that the teacher facilitates learning experiences and that the student is free to accept or reject the offering (hopefully by being able to justify their actions with critical thinking).
My take-away from this missive is to make assessment as user friendly as possible. Smile sheets/likert-like assessments are a fact of assessment life. So my goal is to make them as powerfully able to predict training effectiveness and actionabilty while supporting learning as possible. When I am able to use other forms of assessment, I will make them open to learner choice and supportive of student learning. Both ways, assessment and evaluation can become a win-win experience.
Will Thalheimer @WillWorkLearn