Sunday, 5 October 2008

Open accreditation

About 2 weeks ago a very interesting discussion on open accreditation started, I think on D'Arcy Norman's blog. Some of the responses, such as for instance David Wiley's response, are very edupunk. Do we even need degrees? I'm not sure that's a viable position to be honest. I think George Siemens hit the nail on the head when he said that "providing a statement of competence is only value when the provider of the statement is also trusted". Traditionally it has been institutions like our Universities that have instilled that trust. It was against this background that I have argued that accreditation is a key part of the value proposition for HE. But to be honest, I'm not so sure about that anymore.

In a draft of a call for action I read recently, Microsoft, Cisco and Intel are calling for serious reforms to our assessment system, as they feel it no longer assesses the skills that they value (creativity, collaboration and communication to name a few). That is a very serious indictment, but I think not an unjust one. many of these skills are, or should be, implicitly part of what we think of as "a degree". But if they are not assessed, how do we ensure they are taught, and more importantly, learned? This becomes even more important when we are increasingly atomising the curriculum. If we want to let students pick and mix, we should at least be able to ensure that the sum of their choices still adds up to what we consider to be the whole of their degree.

I think a transparent and reliable way to assess these 21st century skills would go a long way to solving some of our problems in lifelong learning. It would make the accreditation of prior learning easier, as in my opinion it is this 'hidden curriculum' that often concerns people when considering accrediting prior learning. And with prior learning, instantly we have a vehicle to enable a flexible curriculum that spans multiple universities, or the incorporation of non-institutional learning into a qualification. But more crucially, if we can measure these things transparently perhaps trust becomes less important. If degrees no longer are black boxes with a reputation, but an open book that we can all evaluate ourselves... Portfolio anyone... ?

Friday, 3 October 2008

Evidence based teaching

One of the topics that came up several times over the past days in Reykjavik, is that of the differences in culture around assessment. Different countries have different ways in which they perceive and deal with assessment, and this can have a significant impact on the effect of the assessments, and the success of the educational system as a whole.

One particularly interesting approach was outlined by Jakob Wandall, who's work in the Danish national tests I have blogged about last year in High stake national assessments and ranking. I tried to capture Jakob's slide on a picture, but unfortunately that failed rather miserably, so I have tried to recreate his message in the graphic below:

The graph outlines how both the focus of the assessment (on the horizontal axis) and the purpose for which the results are primarily used (on the vertical axis) vary from country to country. I thought the visualisation was very interesting. Comparing this to, for instance, the outcomes of the 2006 PISA, it is interesting to note that neither the approach of the Scandinavian schools (who focus primarily on learner focused formative assessment) nor the Anglo-Saxon approach 9that is much more heavy on the measurements of indicators for performance, tied in to funding) really yields the best results.

The starts of PISA are of course the Finnish, and the unique approach is apparent from this graph. in stead of moving somewhere between the top left and the bottom right of the graph, they sit toward the top right. The Finish system highly values national measurements, evaluating the success of the system by objective measurements. However these measurements are not tied to any control, either through formal channels or more informal ones such as public rankings. In stead the measurements made in the Finnish system have the purpose to inform teaching and learning. An evidence based approach to teaching shall we say.

When I translate this to our own practice, I can't help but relate this to demands to increase the amounts of formative assessment in our teaching. And while I am sympathetic to these demands, these assessments are similar to those in the top left of the above graph, informing and supporting individual learning processes. And so perhaps in stead of focusing primarily on formative individual assessment, we should focus (also) on assessment and evaluation that informs teaching. Building an infrastructure through which lecturers can stay in touch with the progress, successes and difficulties of all their students, and modify their teaching based on this understanding continuously.