Remember back when you were taking Algebra and you’d get dinged for not showing your work, even if you got the answer right? Back then, I thought a good assessment of my learning was getting the right answer. Those memories came back to me as I was reading about Authentic Assessment and how it should provide direct evidence of learning, meaning that it demonstrates you understand “both the products and the processes of learning.” That feels right to me, the adult learner, now that I wonder if there ever is one, right answer to most of the lessons I encounter.
The first time I reflected on assessment was during my first class in the program, and I used the MAT test as an example of a recent assessment I’d taken. In that case, getting the results back did not provide any useful feedback, but at least the test was a means to get me into grad school. Even at that early stage in my journey toward my degree, I was thinking about some of the concepts we read about this week. I just didn’t know they had fancy names like formative, authentic, and CTA.
Assessment is also a concept that I’ve blogged about as having connections between my current career (marketing) and my desired career (training / adult education). In marketing, it’s usually called testing, and you want to test your new programs to make sure they’re achieving the desired results. Ideally, you use what you learn in your testing to tweak the program to hit your mark. This is very similar to formative assessment and the classroom assessment techniques we read about. Yes, I am a geek, but I love how I can keep making these connections! It helps me stay focused on my goal of a career change while reinforcing that the skills I have are highly transferable.
I also get a kick out of making connections between learning from one class to the next. Assessment was obviously a big topic of discussion during ADLT 606 — Instructional Design and Delivery. This was where I first learned about what McDonald (as referenced by Mueller) calls planning backwards. I never thought I’d feel this way, but I actually agree with teaching to the test… but ONLY when the test demonstrates that the students can construct and apply knowledge instead of simply recalling and reciting information.
What I learned in 606 about not leaving the planning of your evaluation until the end is validated by this idea of planning backwards. Determine what you want the students to be able to do and then work backwards to create the content that will teach the necessary skills. In her book On Teaching and Learning, Jane Vella touts the role of assessment early on in the instructional design process. “Getting an honest answer to the Why? question… controls your responses to all the design questions that follow… Inattention to this step in the design can result in inappropriate or irrelevant content.” Mueller says it more succinctly, “assessment drives the curriculum.”
Now, I wonder, how does this fit with my new-found fascination with connectivism? If “the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality” and “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today” (Siemens, 2004), at what point can we accurately assess learning? I think I can start to see where these seemingly disparate concepts can come together.
Kerka writes that “Authentic assessments are adaptable, flexible, ongoing, and cumulative, depicting learner growth over time.” This would address the “nebulous environments of shifting core elements” in which Siemens says learning takes place. If, for example, you were to use a portfolio as your assessment tool, you would see examples of learning at different times and in different formats — blog posts, essays, instructional plans, and research papers. You might even find examples of where the student connects her own learning as she revisits topics throughout her portfolio.