Saturday, 31 March 2012

What should we be assessing?

We assess the wrong things. The students came to one of my lecture after an MCQ and they had been told that they cannot use anything but Blackboard during the test. This is reasonable as if they could use the internet they would find all the answers from Google and Wikipedia. But in a real life environment and not an artificial educational one you would have Google and Wikipedia so why do we need to memorise those facts? All of our subjects are too large to hold in memory any more and so you have to rely on books or the internet. So why are we assessing something that will be irrelevant to the future lives of students. 

I am setting an online statistics test and I have taught them how to work out statistics with a calculator just using sums, squares and square roots. But this was the first time in my life I had ever done it this way. I always use software to do it because the chances of making a mistake with 40 numbers is too high. I was going through the mock test where you have to calculate 30 numbers and one of the students said but why not do it in Excel? Well why not? I had expected they might think of this as I had used it to create my mock answer sheet! The test is online so they will have a computer with Excel so why shouldn't they use the skills they have? So my assessment has to make sure that those that know Excel do not have a significant advantage over those who don't or it tests their understanding of how you use statistics and not the process of carrying it out. The way I have designed it now it can be done as shown in the lectures, in Excel, by calculator ... So I let students think outside the box and use what they know. If they learn SPSS - a better stats programme to do the exam then even better. They have constructed their solutions to the problems. I have not made them unlearn what they know or made the assessment more artificial than necessary.

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