Assessment for open learners

 My call to action earlier this year was to rethink assessment from the ground up and to really challenge myself to create a meaningful assessment that could go beyond grades, and realy make a difference in a young learner’s life.

I focused on foundational learning skills, skills that build a base for lifelong learning, skills that help young people succeed in college, and if and when they graduate, skills that help them succeed in their jobs.  Very broadly these foundational skills are soft skills, such as: being able to work in a team, learning from one another, communicating and articulating questions and responses, engaging with content,  and being able to creatively problem solve. We focused on teamwork, problem solving and engagement, skills that are seldom reported on a college transcript.

Many of these skills are demonstrated in a social setting – to observe teamwork, you need a setting where folks work together.  For communication skills, you have to provide a venue for communications.  We used OpenStudy’s social learning environment to document and assess these soft skills.  As we looked at thousands of interactions between thousands of learners on OpenStudy, we began to see patterns emerge. With the help of expert, Dr. Gloria Miller from the Stanford Research Institute, we identified transitions of a novice learner to an expert learner and developed an assessment of learning progression, independent of quizzes and grades.

As exciting as it is to track learning, for us this is only the beginning.  We are also able to track and document a learner’s teamwork, problem solving and engagement from the thousands of data points we collect over a length of time.  With all this analysis, we can bring real value to the learner by reporting on all these three foundational skills.

What next? Several online content providers offering open courses have asked us to provide an assessment of learning and soft skills of the learners on their courses. Assessment in these open courses (now being called MOOCs) is hard.  It is an open system with very little oversight on learners.  60% of college students formally enrolled in prestigious institutions admit to cheating. Issues such as cheating, plagiarism, unfriendly peer interactions, etc will be present in open courses.  What then, is a relevant, low cost, scaleable  assessment for these new learning environments?   Quizzes that work in a class of 25 students under the eagle eye of a teacher, can’t constitute the entire solution.  Ideally, we want an assessment that learners can use in their job search.

Our solution is an big data assessment derived from long term behavioral data and social analytics .  It is not a snapshot – like a quiz – but a rather complete movie. It is about progression and a learning journey, that is as individual as the learner. It provides a documentation of a learner’s skills, every problem they solved, every answer they articulated, every interaction with other users, every fan they gained, every testimonial they received, all of this available for scrutiny by an employer or a college.

How do they get a hold of this documentation? Learners now will be able to sign up to receive Certificates of Participation from the OpenCourseWareConsortium (OCW of University of Notre Dame, University of California Irvine, and TU Delft), and the 20Million Minds Foundation.  As learners  work through the content, they will study together on OpenStudy, help one another and behave as engaged learners should.  They will be building their digital portfolio of learning and soft skills – and will take this with them to their job interviews or college admissions!  So finally we have an assessment that is actually meaningful and can open doors!


About Preetha Ram

I am an educator (Dean for PreHealth and Science Education at Emory), social entrepreneur (Cofounder of OpenStudy, a global study group to connect learners) and visionary (let's build a classroom for the world to study together). A chemist by training (Yale), I like to solve problems by building bridges at the edges and interstices of disciplinary boundaries.

Posted on October 24, 2012, in E-learning, Hacking Education, MOOCs, open social learning and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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