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Assessment as a Social Activity

September 17th, 2009 jonmott Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been following the Washington State Harvesting Gradebook project for sometime and have been impressed with the intellectual rigor behind the project. That is clearly evidenced in this video overview of the project:

The comments at the end of the video are particularly significant. The narrator concludes:

At bottom, our research findings challenge many traditional assumptions. We are all understanding now that more than ever learning and assessment is or should be social. It benefits from the insight and diversity of broader engaged community. Expertise is distributed. It is not monolithic.

Assessment and assessment criteria, as Wiggins has long argued, should not be a secret. Students’ energy and creativity in their learning should not be held hostage by a classroom or coddled with promises of, “Someday in the real world …”

Intellectual capital is mistakenly recognized as a noun. Intellectual capital is a gerund. It is learning. And it is most valuable when it’s plural: “We learn.”

This emphasis on community and social connections in the learning process (which encompasses assessment) is reminiscent of Brown & Adler’s assertion that it is time for us move beyond the Cartesian premise of “I think, therefore I am” and embrace the more realistic and rich notion of “we participate, therefore we are.” As we make learning and learning assessment more social, public, and transparent, learners will be naturally more invested and engaged in the learning process because they become co-creators and co-custodians of the experience. The WSU model of social assessment that incorporates external assessment of student work extends this openness into the broader community in which our students will work and continue to learn after graduation.

As we move forward with the development of the BYU gradebook, we will incorporate these elements of social assessment, facilitating self-assessment, peer assessment, instructor assessment, and external (third-party) assessment. The resulting treasure trove of authentic assessment data will more than meet our accreditation needs (so long as our program outcomes, learning activities and assessments are aligned!). But far more importantly, this rich, community-centric assessment approach will deepen and enrich the student learning experience.

  • Jon
    You may be interested in this unfolding conversation

  • Interesting. i've only just starting thinking about assessment in social terms. It's such a tricky area and looks like some good debate will be had. Thanks for the link to the Gradebook project, it prompted some more thought on my part.

  • Jared - I agree that not all learning and assessment activities should be social. Solitary reading, pondering, reflection, and writing are some of my most important and cherished intellectual activities. I think what we're looking for is some sort of Aristotelian Mean between the completely social and the utterly solitary. Unfortunately, the center of gravity in assessment has been private and individualistic rather than open and collaborative. While agreeing with your assertion that there is a time and place for private study and reflection, I'd argue that in the current environment we need more social space to enrich and balance it.

  • nilspeterson

    Jared, I'd go a bit further than Jon, and closer to Seely Brown. Much of work and most of the pressing real problems to be solved require multi-disciplinary collaborative teams. The work in involves learning (research, design, etc are forms of learning). Cathy Davidson at HASTAC has called this mode of working "Collaboration by Difference." The Internet allows new means of creating these social learning settings. I believe students need to be learning in these contexts (often outside the university walls) and my interest is in how to provide assessment (not grading) of the learning that benefits both the learner and the academic program that is facilitating the learning.

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