Eric Mazur visits VU to deliver workshop on assessment

Assessment For and not Of Learning

The challenge of breaking the shackles of the Assessment paradigm in the Sciences and Engineering to empower our students with 21st Century skills was the focus of a thought-provoking workshop delivered by Harvard University’s Professor Eric Mazur.

Assessment informs the way we teach and dictates the way we learn, but we’re doing it all wrong according to the renowned physicist, educator and entrepreneur. The value of assessment at universities across the world, he argued, is thwarted by a tradition of ineffectual systems of ranking and classifying and does little to arm our future thinkers with the skills to address real world problems.

In the future computers will do away with any jobs requiring memorization or rote learning of facts, and yet, students of the sciences are typically assessed on their ability to arrive at an unknown answer using a known procedure. Alternatively, real-world problems begin with a known outcome and an unknown pathway. The goal is to demystify the path to the known outcome by applying creative problem solving, information analysis and evaluation skills known collectively as the ‘higher-order thinking’ skills according to Bloom’s hierarchical cognitive domain taxonomy. In summary, educators have an obligation to rethink assessment with this in mind.

Watch the video below to see the whole presentation:

Here are the key ‘take homes’ from Professor Mazur’s workshop:

What are the problems?

1. Grading is not compatible with real problem solving. The road to success is littered with failure, but our approach to grading stigmatizes failure. This produces risk averse graduates.

2. Isolation.

3. High Stakes Examinations promote cramming, but we know this is not authentic learning.

4. Grading is a measure of standing against others, not necessarily a measure of learning.

5. Only lowest order thinking skills (remembering) can be judged objectively.

How do we improve?

1. Mimic real life. For example allow students to complete an open book exam. Why memorise the text book?

2. Focus on feedback, not on ranking.

3. Focus on skills development, not on content.

4. Implement backward design into the assessment design.

5. Resolve the coach/judge conflict. If you want to be the coach, let others be the judges. This can be achieved using external evaluators and peer and self-assessment. We never stop learning in life so assessment is a great opportunity to allow students to develop self-directed learning skills.

By: Penny Manwanring

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