I’ve just returned home from Barcelona, where I was visiting the eLearn Center at the Universitat Oberto de Catalunya (UOC), the Open University of Catalonia. UOC has an “educational model” which is similar to that used at the UK Open University, though they are not “open” in the same sense (they have entry qualifications) and they are an entirely online university. Overall I was extremely impressed (and Barcelona was quite nice too…).
Partly as a result of my discussions in Barcelona and partly just as a result of taking a break from the usual routine, I have been reflecting on what we do in the name of assessment. It’s so easy to make assessment an “add on” at the end of a module (and if you have an exam, I guess it is exactly that). But even if you are then using that assessment as assessment of learning, are you really assessing what you hope that your students have learnt (i.e. your learning outcomes), or are you assessing something altogether different? And if assessment is assessment for learning, is it really driving learning in the way you hope?
At least some courses at UOC make good use of collaborative assessment and surely, in principle at least, a solution is to assess all of the actual activities that you expect your students to do i.e. to put assessment at the centre. In an online environment it should be possible to assess the way in which students actually engage with the materials and collaborate with their peers. However, in my experience, practice is often somewhat different. At the very least, if you have an activity where students work together to produce an output of some sort, it makes sense to assess that output not a different one, even if you then have to enter the murky world of assessing an individual contribution to a group project.
So where does that leave all my work on sophisticated online computer-marked assessment? I still think it can still be very useful as a means of delivering instantaneous, unbiased and targeted feedback interventions and as a way of motivating students and helping them to pace their studies. But that’s about learning not assessment…I need to think about this some more. Perhaps assessment is a bit like quantum mechanics, the more you think you understand it, the more problematic it becomes…