Posts Tagged ‘assessments’

Mary Cullinane, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s first Chief Content Officer, writes on Why Free Is Not the Future of Digital Content in Education. She makes the case that technology advances will not make digital content eventually free, just like in the music industry. This is because technology is adding value, not just reducing the cost of delivery or production. She writes:

As students engage with the content, the content learns more about the students and it also becomes “smarter”. A digital engine compares students’ responses to those of all other users. Equipped with that data, this adaptive learning system doesn’t just show that a student answered incorrectly. It knows why she did, and uses those insights to create a customized learning path.

In doing so, technology helps solves a big problem that has always confronted teachers: students learn at different paces. Advanced students can get bored and struggling students can give up. Now, as a teacher, I can put content in front of each learner that is personalized to his or her needs. It’s something teachers have been doing through the ages, but technology brings it to the next level of adaptivity.

However, this is not an argument that precludes “free”. Technology has added tremendous value for many services (take, for example, instant messaging) and kept the price at zero. Adaptive learning is just simply not the domain of publishers who have large repositories, author networks and organized funding. It can be done in a free, open manner too (just take a look at Khan’s work, for example). What is true, though, is that content development for adaptive learning can become expensive very quickly. We have come a long way since Ms. Lindquist : The Tutor. Now paths through content leading to mastery can be uncovered through collective intelligence, rather than having to be enumerated as before. However, adaptive content still has design requirements that are in addition to regular content development and learning design.

The other thing I would watch against is taking this as a magic wand that “solves a big problem” for teachers and personalizes learning for students. Personalized learning is a very difficult thing to crack, and it is not the same as recommendation systems such as the ones we see today that crowdsource learning patterns. Ultimately, these systems seek to harmonize existing goals (like solving an algebraic equation or learning a grammar construct) where the ontology is precise and the domain exhibits structured rules. Much of learning, however, is not that. Nor is it always goal-seeking.

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Much has been developed, researched and written about the power of high fidelity simulations (especially in defense and healthcare) and their ability to provide far more effective training outcomes and better measurability of performance. And I will include Serious Games as well in the same context. I think it is perhaps a good time to raise a few questions.

Firstly, are simulations (and/or serious games) more suited for assessing performance than traditional paper/pencil or online tests? If yes, does this apply uniformly across all subjects/domains or are these particularly suited for certain types of assessments?

Secondly, what are the essential attributes of such simulation or game based assessments? What are the criteria upon which a simulation or game may be said to reliably, accurately and efficiently assess a student’s performance?

Thirdly, what are the more accessible ways in which such simulations or games can be developed? Learning implements like Multiple Choice or Drag and Drop questions are fairly quick and easy to design and develop, and there are a host of tools around that make the development process fairly rapid. But assessments based on simulations and games may take up too much time and the effort to develop them rises exponentially as the number of variables increase.

Fourthly, what kind of features in a simulation are required in order for the simulation to be more effective as compared to traditional alternatives? Are there techniques, like perhaps adaptive testing, that can be applied to simulation based assessments?

Fifthly, what evidence can be reliably obtained to show that simulations can indeed assess performance reliably?

I may be missing other questions, but the intent is to try to understand how simulation based assessments can be brought into the mainstream education, if indeed they can be proven a reliable and accessible alternative to traditional techniques. It will bring the fun back into taking exams for millions of schoolchildren. That itself should be motivation enough for us to research the space!


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For my hundredth post, I would like to focus on a few key questions that attack various aspects of what I have experienced and learnt in the past two years. These questions are extremely important for me to attempt to answer and I hopefully will, atleast in part, as I go on. The questions may seem disjointed, but perhaps have a common set of answers.

The first, and overarching, question is:

Are there (or what could be) education systems that have (or would) worked outside the box (in contrast to what exists today) and have proved their reliability and validity in the context of today’s and future needs?

This is important to me because I need to understand if we can really envisage an alternate system of education – one more geared towards achieving a vision of a just, inclusive and humane society – than the one we have now. Not that an educational system is solely responsible for all that is wrong today, but in the sense that the educational system is an important enough component of achieving that vision.

There are many strands of thought that connect to this question, not the least being whether this disruptive change is at all required, but it is a question worthy of building an informed belief around. I would further acknowledge that perhaps this change could happen in a way that replaces a portion of the existing system.

The second question relates to the qualifications of a teacher in higher education in India. 

Do undergraduate and post-graduate teachers need a qualifying degree/diploma in educational theory, instructional design/methods and learning technology with a model of internship before they start teaching?

As I have noted before, this question puzzles me no end. I can’t understand why this is not a pre-requisite already (rather than a possible refresher down the line). School teachers require certification, but others do not? It is a different matter that existing certifications in India may perhaps need to be effectively revamped to meet today’s and future requirements.

But I think the answer to this question may have huge implications for achieving the overall vision of any educational system. In particular, it may help bring disruptive change that partially replaces the dominant paradigm.

The third question relates to the role of assessments in an increasingly collaborative world.

How does one assess learning based on principles of collaboration, free thinking and reflection?

What happens when we remove the boundaries of formal curricula, competency models and organizational metrics? This is an important gap, I believe, in connectivist thinking. I am particularly interested in this because the traditional model has an answer that can be tied directly to economic models, social aspirations, development and growth paradigms.

To build an alternative, intelligible and acceptable bridge to other parts/components of our world, we will need to answer this question. Lots of these other systems depend upon the ability of an educational system to provide these assessments to be efficient and effective.

And finally, the question:

What will it take for the change to happen?

I believe that a change is needed and that it should be disruptive change. The change has to be wrenched out and has to stand tall. What will  the drivers be? I think we need to look outside the educational system in order to assess these drivers. 

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves what the political system needs, what the justice system needs, what the economic system needs, as inputs that will help reshape their own destinies in the quest for a just, inclusive and humane society.

These are all overall questions that impact my thinking at this point. As is the fact with questions, I am sure many would share them with me. If anyone has what they think could be answers, I would greatly appreciate your stopping by!

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