So, tomorrow the first of the reflective blog posts is due for EDCN 814. I am finding this a little difficult as there is no clear theme for the blog post – yet the post forum is given the title: Nature & Purpose Blog Post. I know that the fortnights discussion and readings have been about fit for purpose and that I am supposed to reflect on the readings, the discussions made by other students and the general vibe of the whole thing – but i am finding this a little disjointed and would like a little more information for the first post (I would also, in an ideal world, have liked to see an example post so that I can see how much academic versus reflection there is expected in an average post). Who knew that I was such a needy student!
It has been interesting seeing how people working at other levels of education within the broader education system are struggling with assessment. There are very clear issues at different levels of the system:
- HSC teachers teaching to the test (Re: Race on ‘fit-for-purpose’ by Ian Finn – Saturday, 5 March 2016, 5:19 PM).
As a newbie Higher Ed teacher I didn’t think much about the underpinnings of the assessment that I was delivering. When I was a tutor the assessment was designed by other more senior staff and I simply interpreted and delivered it. As a new lecturer I used my experience, logic and active design principles to get students to engage with the content but I still didn’t research the formal theoretical underpinnings of the assessment that I was implementing within my disciplinary or expertise (my research area). It was when I moved into a central administration quality assurance role that I became really interested in what assessment does and how it should be designed to work efficiently and effectively.
I have found the contrast between how primary and high school teachers are trained (and what they are expected to do in terms of pedagogical planning) and that expected of higher education incredibly interesting. The outline in Killen (2005) of the New South Wales Quality Teaching model starkly highlights the absence of training and effective on-going quality assurance in higher education teaching. I have mixed feelings about this, on the one hand I understand that, in a historic sense, the purpose of higher education institutions has been to research with teaching seen as a side activity.* As a result there was little need to engage with anything beyond. On the other hand, the Federal Government intends that 40% of the population will go trough higher education at some point in their lives – that is a significant proportion of the population to provide non-evidence-based teaching and learning practices to……
The literature for the first two weeks has raised a lot of questions for me about how higher education utilises assessment:
- is it possible to define all higher ed assessment as formative?
Most Australian universities have mandated feedback as a required element of assessment (assessment policy). But should each piece of assessment only be considered to be formative if the feedback is designed to be incorporated into the next assessment (as part of the learning journey). Often assessment in higher education is not built as a clear learning journey – instead it is constructed around individual point in time assessment items – and this seems much more like summative assessment rather than formative (6 types of Assessment of learning). Is it a functional division to draw if the assessment has not been designed with specific learning outcomes or context considered?
- Who are the stakeholders that should be considered in a higher education context?
(Assessment ‘fit for purpose’ by Rebecca Wilkinson – Monday, 7 March 2016, 8:32 AM). Newton’s (2007) list of the purposes of assessment raises some interesting questions about whether or not some university assessment should be directly focused on providing data to specific external stakeholders, such as the Federal Government? Currently the majority of assessment is unlikely to be designed with very many specific stakeholders in mind – so should the results of contemporary assessment be used to inform these stakeholders?
- Should we be doing diagnostic assessment at the start of each topic/courses delivery? If effective assessment is one that builds upon the existing knowledge of students – then presumably the staff need to know where their students are up to. This is particularly interesting because most Higher Ed went through “flexibility” push in the late 2000s – this often resulted in students being able to take topics in any order they liked (at their own discretion) – with staff being able to effectively enforce limited scaffolding. How important is it that staff find out what their students already know? Is it essential for a truly constructivist approach to teaching and learning?**
Ahhh so many questions so few answers, for now!
Now that I am a student again – I have been reflecting on how student’s think about assessment. I am starting to think that for most undergraduate higher ed students their focus is almost solely on assessment – they are often highly strategic students (Bain, 2011; Bain, 2012). But I think that might make assessment seem like a specter haunting them from day one until the assessment is submitted.
Bain, K. (2012). What the best college students do. Harvard University Press.
(2011). What the best college teachers do. Harvard University Press.
Hargreaves, E. (2005). Assessment for learning? Thinking outside the (black) box. Cambridge Journal of Education, 35(2), 213-224.
Killen, R. (2005). Programming and assessment for quality teaching and learning. Cengage Learning Australia.
Newton, P. E. (2007). Clarifying the purposes of educational assessment.Assessment in Education, 14(2), 149-170.
* Except for those formal professions such as Architecture and Law – where the purpose was to indoctrinate the students into the profession and ensure that they knowledge was sufficient for them to take up the ‘career’.
**I have met very few academics that take the time to utilise diagnostic assessment (6 Types of Assessment of Learning) – even though many of them think it is a good idea when they discuss it as a concept. This isn’t particularly surprising given that very, very few academic staff that teach are actually trained as teachers – rather they are trained as researchers. So, unless their specific area of research is teaching – it is unlikely that they have had any significant training.