Recently, Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media and also my boss, posted his comments about an article to twitter and Google+ (see Tim’s Post). The article concerns yet another example of how educators are using computers to decrease their teaching workloads instead of using computers to change pedagogically what they are doing to make learning a better more meaningful experience. You can read the offensive article yourself written here: Professors Cede Grading Power to Outsiders—Even Computers
Thankfully Tim took the right angle on this article saying,
“It strikes me that the whole idea of computerized or outsourced grading is based on a failure to understand what education is really about.”
He’s right. In other words it seems that a lot of educators and instructional designers goals these days is to completely remove professors and teachers from the process of teaching and coaching. These types of efforts are sure to fail today as much as they have in the past. Similar efforts were made in the Plato project and the Nova Net Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) back in the 70s and 80s, to disastrous results. There is a reason these projects were taken out of the system at the UIUC. They didn’t work.
It’s time to start thinking about what we are trying to accomplish in education. Are we trying to improve and educate people, or are we simply a filter for assessing people’s abilities when they arrive in our courses. Bruce Carpenter a colleague and friend of mine sent me a link yesterday to the wikipedia page at Formative Assessment. Essentially, the article makes a clear distinction between [b]Formative Assessment[/b] and [b]Summative Assessment[/b].
For Learning — The purpose of formative assessment is to enhance learning not to allocate grades. Summative assessments are designed to allocate grades. The goal of formative assessment is to improve; summative assessment to prove.
So, the crux of the matter is we as educators need to decide what the meaning and emphasis on education should be. Should education be more about improvement and learning? Or should it be about proving you can get through it? I personally choose the former. Schools and Universities have had hundreds of years of Summative assessments in play in Mathematics courses and all we are doing is making the majority of the population hate Mathematics. The pendulum has been on the Summative Assessment side for far too long, and now it’s time to move that pendulum to the formative side and see how it does.
Of course, I already know the answer. I’ve been designing and using online learning systems for over 17 years now. I settled on Formative Assessment from the very beginning since from my own teaching experiences I learned that Summative Assessments didn’t work to increase peoples understanding (see my first post: How and why I want to change Math Education. So in both the O’Reilly School of Technology and the upcoming Make: Mathematics, formative assessment by the instructors is baked into the system. Our students exchange things they are making with their instructor who give them feedback and thoughts for improvement at every step. Guess what? It works magnificently.
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