So we watched a presentation yesterday by True Outcomes, and of course I had to hold my nose a bit. I come from the “merit badge” school of Roger Schank, that ideallyÂ assessments fall into to the category of “Student X can build a fire, and we know that because he built a fire” (or in Schank’s case because he completed a case-based simulation of building a fire). Align a curriculum more towards doing and less toward demonstrating “qualities”, and a lot of assessment headache goes away. In a doing culture, assessment is healthy, because it maps onto real world goals — can this person solve a real world data import problem using a scripting language? Yes? Great! Merit badge!
But “displays knowledge of data analysis techniques and an understanding of how to automate data import processes”?Â Mapped onto a one to five value rubric?
That’s assessment, and it happens most often when we think the student can’t do anything of value.
That said, I loved the True Outcomes presentation. Why? Because it was pure assessment. There was noÂ eportfolio product attached to it (or rather, the presentation product attached to it was so slight as to be insignificant).Â What’s more, the students don’t even have to submit into it — there’s a simple option called “Observation” (as opposed to electronic submission) where professors can assess student work outside the program. So if students want to do an eportfolio project in WordPress or Google Documents they could conceivably do it, and just have the professor save a copy of the artifactÂ to local storage somewhere. They want to videoconference it or Skype it in? Again, not a problem. The system doesn’t care.
The point here is that with assessment loosely coupled, the process can be fluid, and defined by the individual needs of the professors. Because the portfoliosÂ can be based on an unconstrainedÂ worldware approach, professors sold onÂ aÂ Web 2.0Â approachÂ are free to push the pedagogical envelope, and let students do things in Blogger, WordPress, or YouTube.Â Â Professors who don’t want to invest time in those things can tell the students toÂ do something or other in MSWord.Â
By not tying the assessment product to the pedagogy, you make sure that you are not hindering your more forward-thinking professors. And you guarantee that as technology evolves outside the college that you’ll automatically benefit from those advances — whether or not you buy the most recent vendor upgrade.
In short, you make evolution possible.
Anyway, I’m very happy about this development. If your institution is currently looking at eportfolio/assessment solutions, I’d suggest that you consider looking at True Outcomes, and put to rest the assessment bit. Then, with the vendor no longer hanging about, suggest a worldware approach to eportfolios and the like.
I’ll keep you all updated on how that goes here.