Loosely coupled assessment

Here’s the thing it’s 2000 all over again. Eportfolio is the new LMS.

Watching a recent vendor presentation I thought “I can’t believe this is happening again.”

That single phrase. In a loop. In my head.

Because remember — this happened once before. The LMS vendors came in with an assessment and management tool, and told us it was an elearning solution. At the time, I was on the other side of the equation, with a company trying to sell award-winning goal-based scenario software to colleges who were saying but we already HAVE an elearning solution. It’s called Blackboard. Or WebCT. Or whatever.

And so Blackboard, an assessment and management tool, determined the pedagogy of colleges for eight or so years. Because teachers wanted to import rosters, we put students in a closed box and told them it was elearning.

When it wasn’t. The truth is the kids were doing more elearning on MySpace than in Blackboard.

How do we avoid it again? How do we avoid imposing something that is just pedagogically WRONG on a new set of students because we need to meet some institutional assessment needs?

There’s only one way — loosely coupled assessment.

If we are going to talk assessment, we are going to have to segregate it. Your assessment tool should ONLY assess.

We don’t need to talk more about student needs wth vendors that supply assessment tools. We need to talk to them less about student needs. It’s not their business.

Literally: it is not their business.

In fact, we should remove student needs entirely from the equation.

The students know they can get far bettter solutions to their problems for free elsewhere. They don’t need a eportfolio system to post their resumes on.

So enough of letting assessment vendors tell us what facilities we will be forced to use in their walled garden, and expecting us to be excited about it. Enough with assessment vendors selling us “environments”. What we should be doing is describing the the enviroment that might exist — students using WordPress, Blogger, S3, GDrive, email, messaging, etc. And then we should ask if they have a tool that can evaluate that. How will their tool interface with the learning environment we’ve constructed?

Anything else is insanity.

9 thoughts on “Loosely coupled assessment

  1. One idea that has been floating around in my head since the ElggJam conference (http://community.brighton.ac.uk/e10/) is for an assessment/evaluation tool to be based around an RSS reader.

    It would work basically like this:
    -Instructor has an account in the system (ideally just an OpenID)
    -students do not – they use whatever online tools they like, with the only restriction being that they can provide their content as RSS feeds (authenticated in necessary)

    -the instructor would then aggregate his students work from various sources (e.g. flickr, their blogs, their wiki contribs, facebook, whatever)

    -when viewing an element (e.g. blog post) in this reader, the instructor would have tools to comment, provide feedback, record achievement (grades) about the student and their progress

    This approach would provide the openness we all know should be there (let them use the tools they like) and still provide the centralized management that instructors need to keep track of it all. This would relegate the overblown closed-door content management systems (e.g. BlackCT) to a relatively small corner of the real assessment process…

  2. Agreed — and what’s interesting is this is where I think most people’s thought is tending — there’s been a couple of instance in conversations where I’ve been about to suggest something similar to a net-enabled learning person, and the person I’m talking to says something like — “Couldn’t the student just submit an OPML file, and then the professor aggregates it and marks it up and tags it with metadata?”
    Additionally, Jim Groom at http://bavatuesdays.com is looking at using the WP-autoblog tool to aggregate feeds into a central blog, where they can be categorized, rated, commented on or whatever.
    So I think maybe rather than the PLE desktop tool, what we really need is a tool for professors — because if we straighten that bit out, suddenly we have much more freedom to innovate in the real learning part of it, and we can bring back the organic focus we need.

  3. If the institution believes that the purpose of the ePortfolio as a “system to post thier resumes on,” then you are right about it failing miserably. I support 200+ students and faculty every year who are creating ePortfolios for various purposes – personal growth, program assessment, employment, and the beat goes on. The most annoying thing is when a faculty member or student cannot get off the assumption that the ePortfolio is a three-dimensional resume and only that. By the same token, it is frustrating when the narrow-mindedness obsesses about “using ePortfolios to keep our accreditation.” That’s not all it is.

  4. Agreed — but I think it’s more than that.

    Eportfolio is not a product — it’s a method of presentation and reflection.

    So even if we enumerate 20 uses for eportfolio, or 40, we’re still doing a disservice.

    Think of eportfolio as something like the “theme essay” or “sports writing” or “still life painting” or anything along those lines. Or htink of it like a “blog”.

    It’s an approach to presentation which operates in certain conventions, technical and thematic.

    The best way to kill the essay writing abilities of students is to tell them they need an “essay writing product” to write them.

    The best way to pervert their understanding of portfolio thinking is to tell them they need a specific eportfolio product. If the product is not incidental to the process, I see that as a problem, not a benefit.

  5. Actually, looking at this (of yours):


    we may be on the same page.

    But from the technical side I think the best way to make sure the uses are not predefined is to not use a portfolio product, which by it’s nature predefines uses.

    Use blogs, use word, use ANYTHING which does not have a predefined idea of what an eportfolio is…

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