Posts tagged ‘assessment’

November 14, 2011

Learning at School vs. Learning at Work: Are We Prepared?

by t.e.d.d.y.

Image: Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is clear that no matter how much we try to prepare students to be successful on the workplace, we cannot completely cover everything that they will experience once they start a job.  Simple reason… we can’t read the future yet.  If your students were Grade 9 six or seven years ago, and if they went to college after high-school, they will likely be starting their first “career-oriented” job right about now.  If we think of this time in terms of history of technology inventions and developments, by the time your students graduate college and start working, school will have prepared them for pretty much nothing (or very little) of what they will find on their workplace.  Take a look at this timeline, outlining what happened during these six or seven years since being a Grade 9 student:
(it’s almost 2012 now, but lets look back at 2004 as a starting point)

2004:
Facebook was launched.
Notebook PCs outsell TVs during the holiday season for the first time.
Mozilla Firefox 1.0 is released.

2005:
GoogleMaps is launched
YouTube is founded and comes online Feb 25, 2005.
Microsoft XP Professional is released.
Microsoft releases Xbox 360.

2006:
The blu-ray is first announced and introduced.
Toshiba releases the first HD DVD player in Japan.
Twittr, aka Twitter, launches officially.
Sony releases PlayStation 3.
Nintendo releases Wii.
Microsoft releases Microsoft Windows Vista to corporations.

2007:
Apple introduces iPhone.
Microsoft releases Microsoft Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 to the public.
Google releases Google Streetview.
Google releases Android.
Amazon.com releases the first Kindle.

2008:
RIM named “Canada’s Top 100 Employers”

2009:
Facebook (launched in 2004) overtakes MySpace in Internet traffic.
Microsoft released the Bing search engine.
Gmail gets out of beta and released to the public.

2010:
Apple introduces the iPad.
Apple introduces iPhone 4.
Amazon reports that it is selling more Kindle books than hardcover books.
RIM announces the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer.

2011:
Microsoft acquires Skype.
Apple introduces Apple 4S.
RIM lays off 2000 people – the biggest lay-off in its history.

Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So in a nutshell, we couldn’t have prepared our students for all of the above.  We couldn’t have taught them about social media, Internet bullying, mLearning, etc.  And considering the timeline of all events, it was impossible for us to predict all these changes.  And naturally we cannot predict what changes will happen six years from now.  That’s a normal thing and shouldn’t be a reason for concern.  Until we actually learn how to use a crystal ball, we have nothing to worry about. (So educators, please stop worrying about not being able to catch up with technology :) )

However, there is another thing we don’t prepare our students for, which is quite different from what they experience at school: learning on the job.  Yes, we talk about life-long learning and constant exploration and curiosity.  However, the learning process that happens at work, is very different and could be quite challenging if one is not prepared.  When our students graduate school, college, university, they are coming out of a system which encourages a different type of learning than the one at a workplace.  Below are some characteristics of “learning at school” and “learning at work”.  While these aren’t set rules of how learning happens at both places, they represent a general picture of what happens.  There are always exceptions of course.

LEARNING @ SCHOOL LEARNING @ WORK
Follow a lesson plan Often there is no plan
Learner-focused and teacher-driven Learner-driven and company-focused
Learn then apply Learn as you apply
Individual learning style in your own pace Individual learning style in the company’s pace
Talk to go-to person (teacher) then self-explore Self-explore then talk to go-to person (mentor)
Learn for a test/exam/graduation standards (fixed quantity of material) Learn continuously (indefinite quantity of material and knowledge)
Team-work is preferable but not always a requirement Team-work is preferable AND a requirement
Change is usually minimal Change is usually constant
Learning causes change Change causes learning
Single source of assessment (teacher) Multiple sources of assessment (managers, peers, etc.)
Steady predictable learning curve (due to following a prescribed curriculum) Dynamic unpredictible learning curve (no curriculum)

Have you noticed other differences?  Please add them to the list.

So how do we prepare our students?  Are we prepared ourselves?

One way is incorporating bits of “work” learning into collaborative projects.  In one of my courses, I set a deadline (for fun) to complete a task in class.  The results didn’t have to be perfect and the activity was not graded.  In a very short time, my students had to work together (small groups) and find out as much information as possible on a topic.  When the deadline was over, they had to drop everything they were doing and attend a “meeting” where they shared what they had achieved.  The exercise was fun because the speed of work kept everyone going and motivated to finish.  There was no competition (e.g. which group collected the most information).  It was a fun thing to do.  When sharing, everyone provided their point of view and allowed for other groups to contribute.  The end result was great.  The exercise not only taught them what a tight deadline is, but also revealed that you don’t have to have perfect results to be able to share them with the team.  The team is what makes the end result… “perfect”.  Also, my students all noticed that if you set unrealistic goals for yourself (too much work in too little time), it can be quite challenging.  Finding ways to overcome these challenges or communicate their concerns openly is extremely important.  And that’s exactly what happens in the work place.  If you are not able to communicate properly and assess your abilities fairly, you keep saying “yes, I can do it” and then end up with too much on your plate and a whole lot of stress.  Sometimes on the job, you have to learn something very fast because you don’t have all the time in the world to get up to speed.  This is a task that may cause a lot of stress.  If you don’t know how to handle it, it could lead to the natural resentment and disappointment.  That’s why addressing the issue of different learning environments with our students is important and will help them become successful and more adaptable in their work.

September 26, 2011

Studying and teaching for the test: Students’ and Teachers’ worst nightmare

by t.e.d.d.y.

Traditional or the way I like to call them “military” types of assessment have no place in an education system of the 21st century.  Are we still studying for the test?  That’s because our teachers are teaching for the test.  Teachers in the U.S. (in North America in general but mostly in the U.S. especially after NCLB was implemented) are held accountable for low test scores of their students.  So what do we have here?  Teacher who sneaks answers to students only to get good evaluations on their own work and get a pay raise based on these results.  How sad is that?!

Test scores mean that you can or cannot take a test.  They don’t represent your knowledge or understanding of a subject matter.  I have said this a thousand times.  Having worked in the test prep industry, I know that a test is taken not because you necessarily learn the content covered by the test, but by learning the tricks of test-taking.  Believe or not, it’s called “methodology of test-taking”.  Now that’s pathetic.  Who says for example that people with higher IQ are smarter than people with lower IQ?  The creator of the IQ test, Alfred Binet, warned that measuring someone’s intelligence is not a linear process and it cannot be represented by a single number.  In other words, Binet insisted that intelligence does not have a fixed quantity and it can also improve or deteriorate depending on many other factors.  Unfortunately this part of this explanation behind the infamous IQ test were ignored.  Even today, based on an IQ test, a lot of states make decisions on whether to convict someone based on their IQ test score.  How ridiculous is this?!

Anyway… before I go off topic… the bottom line is, studying for the test is wrong and cannot lead to anything good or productive… like learning for example.  Studying does not necessarily lead to learning.  There are many examples of why tests have negative effects on learning.  And there are examples of why having no tests leads to better results.  I was reading an article about the education system in Finland and I was amazed.  Finland has no tests for its students and teachers and is rated among the highest achieving countries on innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity.  Why is that?  What’s the magic formula that got them there?  Harvard professor Tony Wagner explains it like this:

There is no domestic testing except a very quiet auditing program to test demographic samples of kids; not for accountability, not for public consumption, and not for comparison across schools. The fascinating thing is that because they have created such a high level of professionalism, they can trust their teachers. Their motto is “Trust Through Professionalism.” The difference between the highest performing school in Finland and the lowest performing school in Finland is less than four percent, and that’s without any testing at all.

Can you believe this is actually working?  Not only is it working, it’s making the education system in this country flourish.  It’s making its teachers and students flourish.  The focus is on teachers’ professional development and trust.  Every teacher in Finland must have a Master’s degree.  For every ten applicants to become teachers, only one gets to go into a classroom.  This high expectation but also flexibility has turned the teaching profession into one of the most prominent in the country.  Professor Wagner continues:

So they began in the 1970s by completely transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers. That was a very important fundamental reform because it enabled them to have a much higher level of professionalism among teachers. Every teacher got a masters degree, and every teacher got the very same high quality level of preparation.

So what has happened since is that teaching has become the most highly esteemed profession. Not the highest paid, but the most highly esteemed. Only one out of every 10 people who apply to become teachers will ultimately make it to the classroom. The consequence has been that Finland’s performance on international assessments, called PISA, have consistently outranked every other western country, and really there are only a handful of eastern countries that are educating with the same results.

Professor Tony Wagner narrated a documentary on the education system in Finland called “The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System” and is the author of a book “The Global Achievement Gap” (find a link and full title in the BookBuzz page of this blog).  Professor Wagner says that Finland has “defined professionalism as working more collaboratively”.  Teachers actually have time during the day to work together and constantly improve their skills, curriculum, and lessons.

So why can’t we take this lesson and move away from the “military” 19th century type of teaching and teacher preparation?  Tests are not the bottom line of who our students and teachers are.  Giving a raise to a teacher because her students scored high on a standardized multiple-choice test is so wrong that it is beyond anything natural that might happen in a school.  I may sound like a broken record but I will quote Sir Ken Robinson here.  He says that schools should go back to a more agricultural model of functioning and move away from the industrial model; to a customized model and move away from the fast food model.  They should create the circumstances under which students and teachers can “grow” organically.  Just as you provide water and sun for the crops to grow, schools should nourish students and teachers to reach their potential and be motivated to create and love what they do.  I believe Finland’s education system has done just that.

UPDATE from the news:  Here’s what happens when college admission depends on a test score.  When colleges only need the score, then students care only about… the score. –“7 Long Island Students Charged in SAT Scheme”

UPDATE: I found this excellent interview with Dr. Ben Levin, University of Toronto on the value of standardized tests and the differences between the US and Canadian education systems.

UPDATE: Edutopia’s article on how technology will help move away from a test-driven curriculum: “Critical and creative thinking cannot, and will not, happen in our schools unless we unshackle our teachers from the confines of our test-driven curriculum.”

August 12, 2011

Holding on to the 19th century – the academic paper’s days are numbered

by t.e.d.d.y.

Continuing my rant about change in education, I found this article (Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com) fascinating.  It reviews a book that’s coming up by Cathy N. Davidson, “Now You See It”, which questions a few beliefs in the academic world, such as the “academic paper” as a form of assessment in university.

Education does need an upgrade to match the digital age and it needs it fast.  Methods of teaching and assessment inherited from the 19th century (and even the 20th) are not relevant any more.  There are a couple of issues here that impressed me the most and made me think that wanting change and pushing it forward isn’t such a bad thing (makes me feel less guilty about doing it) :)

One of the issues is related to using the “academic paper” as a form of assessment.  The author of the book says that she noticed her students failing to write good academic papers at the end of their university courses, but at the same time were producing excellent blogs and Wikis which were perfectly well written and attracted a huge audience of interested readers.  She noticed that her students were capable of researching a topic, relating the information to their own experience and writing about it in their blogs and Wikis in a clear, interesting, and engaging way.  However, when it came to doing the same in an academic paper, they all struggled to express themselves and most of their assignments were hardly at a publishable or even acceptable level.  So what was wrong? The author came to the conclusion that her students’ writing skills may not be the problem.  The “academic paper” as a form may be the problem.  It’s a form we inherited from the 19th century when people had to learn certain rules and sequence of writing in order to be easily assessed by their professors.

The contemporary American classroom, with its grades and deference to the clock, is an inheritance from the late 19th century. During that period of titanic change, machines suddenly needed to run on time. Individual workers needed to willingly perform discrete operations as opposed to whole jobs. The industrial-era classroom, as a training ground for future factory workers, was retooled to teach tasks, obedience, hierarchy and schedules.

Quote from: Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com

In this day and age, however, this form becomes irrelevant because less and less people will search for an academic paper (unless you work in academia) in order to get information or learn something.  Usually, people would look to the Internet to find what they need and that would be sufficient.  Another change from the 19th century is that professors nowadays do everything they can to limit their work with students.  Yes, I said it… it’s true.  How many professors have lost their jobs because they can’t teach?  None.  How many professors have jeopardized their jobs because they don’t publish enough research academic papers or don’t bring enough funding for their departments?  The number is quite large.  Professors have limited their direct work with students so much, that they don’t even grade student assignments any more.  They delegate the work to external “professional graders” who have never met the students and provide a “fair” grade that they think is appropriate.  Another option professors choose is computers… the matrix for grading is entered into a computer program and the program grades the assignment.

So if that’s the case, why do we have to continue writing academic papers which we don’t know how to write in the first place?  Why do we have to learn how to write them if nobody will ever be interested in reading them? (not even our professors)  Something has to change.

The second issue that the author of this book brings up is the question of whether multimedia and multitasking is as distractive to students as educators and parents think it is.  The author says that what seems as a distraction is actually the way students learn today.  I always mention this in my courses as well.  The fast that we can’t “multitask”, meaning watching TV while creating a video on the computer, while chatting with a couple of friends, browsing the Internet, and texting on our phones, does not mean that students of the new digital age can’t do it and do it efficiently.  Learning is not done during “me time” any more.  Students do not need quiet and piece behind a closed door with the TV and computer turned off in order to learn.

A classroom suited to today’s students should deemphasize solitary piecework. It should facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps individuals compensate for their blindnesses, instead of cultivating them. That classroom needs new ways of measuring progress, tailored to digital times — rather than to the industrial age or to some artsy utopia where everyone gets an Awesome for effort.

The new classroom should teach the huge array of complex skills that come under the heading of digital literacy. And it should make students accountable on the Web, where they should regularly be aiming, from grade-school on, to contribute to a wide range of wiki projects.

Quote from: Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com

This type of opinion and initiative gives me a lot of hope that things will soon start to turn around.  Education should enter a phase of transition not only in terms of allowing computers in the classroom… we are pass that stage… but in terms of teacher preparation, assessment, collaboration, methodology, even psychology.  I am hopeful that this will become reality sooner than later.

Read more on the topic at the Classroom as Microcosm blog.

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