(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

Authentic & Sustainable Assessment: openly brainstorming workshop ideas

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I’ll be co-facilitating a workshop with a colleague on “alternative assessment” and I have chosen to make my part of it about authentic and sustainable assessment. I plan to ask participants to brainstorm ways to modify their current assessments to make them more authentic/sustainable. (My colleague will then discuss pedagogical strategies for implementing these abstract ideas that I will discuss).

Thought I’d write this post to share my thoughts so far and see if anyone out here has good examples they’ve done in their courses that I could share. Also any ideas you have for making the workshop activities more interesting. I could then, in sharing these ideas, show by example why a sustainable, authentic piece of writing (like this blog post) can help develop ideas (and share with a wider audience) beyond doing the research all on my own and not sharing it. Does that make sense? Would this be considered crowdsourcing my workshop? (I already have books and of course google full of ideas I could use, but I have discovered I can sometimes get much more valuable stuff from people directly, like here or on twitter).

I just saw this wonderful statement by Dave Cormier where he is encouraging “blind sharing” because

It is next to impossible for you to know before you’ve shared whether it’s going to be useful to someone else.

So true. Now, moving on so I can “blind share” and encourage you to share.

So how do i define my terms?

Authentic assessment is one where learners try “real-world” applications of what they are learning. Two definitions mentioned in the Authentic Assessment Toolbox are:

A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills — Jon Mueller

“…Engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field.” — Grant Wiggins — (Wiggins, 1993, p. 229).

One way to look at it is to consider important skills/tasks/values a “professional” in the field does, and design an assessment close to that.
An example pf a very bad assessment was my First Aid training with the Red Cross many years ago – it was a multiple choice exam. This in no way tests anyone’s ability to perform CPR under stress. A more authentic assessment would be to simulate an emergency situation and have volunteers react. The simulation, of course, would not test the volunteer’s courage and confidence to act under real conditions (quite difficult to test in an artificial environment) but at least it tests their CPR skills directly! A truly authentic alternative to this would be difficult to do in practice (e.g. Leave them on lifeguard duty and watch them from afar! ) but I have to assume that real professional life-savers (e.g. Medical people, firefighters, etc.) get more rigorous and authentic assessments than volunteers at the Red Cross.

A good continuum used in the Authentic Assessment Toolbox is this below:

Traditional ——————————————— Authentic

Selecting a Response ———————————— Performing a Task

Contrived ————————————————————— Real-life

Recall/Recognition ——————————- Construction/Application

Teacher-structured ————————————- Student-structured

Indirect Evidence ——————————————– Direct Evidence

(Note: the word “performance” can be tricky to use because it sometimes has behaviorist connotations and neoliberal ones: i.e. The emphasis is on showing a measurable skill rather than learning it deeply; however, in this context, i think the emphasis means ability to do something rather than theoretically select an appropriate response on a test).

(And in case you’re asking why I didn’t just get examples from that same website – many of the links I followed are not working).

Sustainable Assessment is an idea I got from #flsustain, Nottingham’s Sustainability, Society and You MOOC. According to Speight the author of “Learning for Sustainability” (free, open book, downloadable from here)

assessment strategies should be carefully planned to ensure that what is assessed is the development of the individual rather than their performance. … to focus upon a journey rather than a moment. A sustainable method of assessment is one that can do ‘double or triple-duty’ – it is appropriate and valid for the learning involved, takes the long view (thus making a contribution to society), and also meets the academic requirements of the university.

As part of the MOOC, I wrote the following:

Sustainability has connotations of continuity and of doing things in a holistic manner. Because my interest is in education, I am particularly interested in sustainable learning: how to design our learning environment and community and activities in ways that use sustainable methods and materials, and also promote sustainable/ongoing learning that continues seamlessly beyond any course-constrained time and space. I am just now learning how ideas of open education fit within this framework.

My personal approach to sustainable assessment has been to have all or most of my students’ work on their blogs so others outside the course can benefit. Because the content is on blogs, I am more intentional about making it useful for others beyond the course, and have invited my international networks (aka my online friends) to interact with my students via their blogs and Twitter, to everyone’s delight 🙂

Community-based learning, when done well can be both an authentic and sustainable form of assessment: learners work with real communities in their real problems, and hopefully create something that will have benefit beyond just the course, hopefully something that could endure beyond that time and space.

And just one closing quote inspired by Sean Michael Morris’ latest post on Keep Learning:

as teachers we can never be certain that our students will choose the same walls we choose for them…the space of learning is more fluid and adaptable than we might have planned on

(Disclaimer: i am quoting him slightly out of context, but it still fits brilliantly here).

This blog post, and the workshop it prepares for, is an invitation to expand our teaching beyond the walls… And I am inviting you to post suggestions in the comments! Thanks in advance!

Update: some resources from Twitter (thanks to Andrew M and Sarah S):
I was reminded of Herrington’s work (strange I did not think of it even though I cite her often in my thesis!) and pointed to this website on authentic learning, which has an authentic assessment and also points to this other good resource from UW-Stout
Another resource was HE Academy, which apparently has good projects with sustainability at their core (have not checked them out yet; hoping they are sustainable approaches to assessing learning, rather than approaches to assessing sustainability)
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Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

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