Monday, 28 April 2008

Problem based Learing in Second Life

I attended a presentation by Daden, who are doing a lot of very impressive and interesting things in Second Life (and other virtual worlds). I thoroughly recommend having a look at their space in Second Life, where they have some great mash-ups with Google Earth. I would post some links here, but the ones I could find on their site aren't working, which is a bit rubbish.

Aside from the things appealing to my inner geek, there were also some ver interesting applications in learning. One project I found particularly interesting was the JISC funded 'Problem based learning in Second Life'. We were shown a simulation of a road traffic accident used for assessment. The detail was quite incredible (including the ability to listen to the patients breathing, which adjusted over time based on the actions of the attending paramedic). The medical sciences as usual are front runners in the use of new technologies, but I could see many applications in other domains.

The question that does still bug me is whether we should be doing this in open worlds, like Second Life, or if we should be using more private spaces. Perhaps a happy medium will be found in the Second Life Grid, which seems to be looking to offer the best of both worlds... so to speak.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Assessment standards: a manifesto for change

A group of 34 prominent academics has taken a laudible stance against our current assessment culture (see also this THE article). You can find the manifesto and it's supporters at the bottom of this post. Point 3 especially I think is very poignant within the context of e-Assessment, where our obsession with the measurable (I'm thinking Item Response Theory here) has gotten way out of hand at the expense of validity.

The Weston Manor Group

Assessment standards: a manifesto for change

  1. The debate on standards needs to focus on how high standards of learning can be achieved through assessment. This requires a greater emphasis on assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning.

  1. When it comes to the assessment of learning, we need to move beyond systems focused on marks and grades towards the valid assessment of the achievement of intended programme outcomes.

  1. Limits to the extent that standards can be articulated explicitly must be recognised since ever more detailed specificity and striving for reliability, all too frequently, diminish the learning experience and threaten its validity. There are important benefits of higher education which are not amenable either to the precise specification of standards or to objective assessment.

  1. Assessment standards are socially constructed so there must be a greater emphasis on assessment and feedback processes that actively engage both staff and students in dialogue about standards. It is when learners share an understanding of academic and professional standards in an atmosphere of mutual trust that learning works best.

  1. Active engagement with assessment standards needs to be an integral and seamless part of course design and the learning process in order to allow students to develop their own, internalised, conceptions of standards, and monitor and supervise their own learning.

  1. Assessment is largely dependent upon professional judgement, and confidence in such judgement requires the establishment of appropriate forums for the development and sharing of standards within and between disciplinary and professional communities.


Professor Trudy Banta

Dr Simon Barrie

Professor Sally Brown

Ms Cordelia Bryan

Dr Colin Bryson

Ms Jude Carroll

Professor Sue Clegg

Professor Linda Drew

Professor Graham Gibbs

Professor Anton Havnes

Dr Mary Lea

Dr Janet Macdonald

Professor Ranald Macdonald

Dr Debra Macfarlane

Dr Susan Martin

Professor Marcia Mentkowski

Dr Stephen Merry

Professor David Nicol

Professor Andy Northedge

Professor Lin Norton

Ms Berry O’Donovan

Dr Thomas Olsson

Dr Susan Orr

Dr Paul Orsmond

Professor Margaret Price

Professor Phil Race

Mr Clive Robertson

Dr Mark Russell

Dr Chris Rust

Professor Gilly Salmon

Professor Kay Sambell

Professor Brenda Smith

Professor Stephen Swithenby

Professor Mantz Yorke

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Crowdsourcing assessment preparation

An article in the Wired Campus made me aware of a new service for test preparation called Socrato. It's seems to be a sort of massive online study group where people can submit, view and practice all sorts of tests (although at the moment mainly MCAS). The downside could be that this is a beta for which the final business model has not yet been chosen, so I'd be careful of the stuff you submit.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Resources to support the assessment of learning

The latest entry in JISC Inform 21 links to "Resources to support the assessment of learning". I must say that the collection is far from comprehensive, and ery JISC/CETIS focussed. Still it's worth a look.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Efficiency or effectiveness

The BBC reports that our government will be reviewing the efficiency of our exam system. I'm developing a rather serious aversion to efficiency, as it usually translates rather neatly into degradation.

It would be nice if the government would review the effectiveness of our exam system. Effectiveness is about reaching intended outcomes, not just about saving pennies. As the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, John Dunford, said in the article: "It is vitally important that the government not only conducts a cost-benefit analysis of the current exam system but evaluates its effect on teaching and learning." Perhaps (god forbid) we could also review the effects of all the links to targets, KPIs and league tables on the quality of learning, as they certainly compromise the validity of the whole system. I will again point to the efforts of colleagues in Denmark, who seem to have understood this a whole lot better.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Publishing exam questions in advance

I just finished reading an article in the Times Higher Education in which it is suggested that exam papers should be published in advance to students to cut down on stress. This idea apparently stems from a paper published by the University Mental Health Advisors Network.

Now I hope this is an oversimplification of what the paper actually suggests. Wen taken literally, the suggestion seems rather awkward. Surely just publishing questions in advance would lead to all sorts of problems. Papers are often designed to test only a subset of the curriculum. This is only a valid approach in combination with a moratorium on the questions during learning (otherwise learning would most likely be limited to these questions).

What we need is to move towards more authentic and negotiated assessment, and away from the eternal exam and essay constructions. That is hardly a new notion however, and not really anything to do with disability in particular.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Split personalities

This fascinating short video give some insight into how our brain (or should I say brains?) work. The subject has had his 2 hemispheres severed in an attempt to decrease epileptic seizures. The video shows how Joe can now 'talk' to his disconnected right half of his brain through letting it draw pictures for him with his left hand. Amazing stuff, thanks for that to Donald Clark.

I am truly fascinated by research like this, in particular with the more philosophical questions that it raised about identity. Another amazing video on this topic is from Jill Taylor, in one of the most gripping TEDtalks I have seen. Jill describes how she one morning discovered she was having a massive stroke... Quite an opportunity for a brain scientist.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Tutored by pirates

I just watched this incredibly inspiring and funny TEDtalk by David Eggers. It's a wonderful example of the power of what direct and personal feedback can do for learning. More importantly though, it is about how passion and fun can help children learn.

It does make me wonder though... would we be able to set up something like this in the UK, given all the bureaucracy with CRB checks and the likes?