Assessment is a nightmare I have regarding any model of learning.  I’m sure many of you have had the dream that you were taking a course, never attended the classes, never bought the book, and discovered you are supposed to take the final tomorrow and you have no clue what was covered in the course.  I still have it to this day, although thank goodness less frequently.  I guess that’s one of the few benefits of old age.

In the world of connectivism a student constructs their own lesson plan, seeks the information to satisfy that plan, and of course continually modifies that plan as they acquire new understandings and see directions they had not considered.  A very dynamic mode of learning and probably a lot more fun than sitting in a classroom listening to boring lectures.  But how do we measure student learning?  Or do we need to measure student learning?  I’m using the term we quite broadly because it could possibly be invoked as self-directed assessment, although I’m not sure how that would work.

Teaching to the test is a frequent criticism of many of the education reforms that have been enacted in the K-12 education system in the US over the last few decades.  A set of standards are erected, the curriculum is modified, the standardized tests are produced to measure student learning, and off we go.  Another day I’ll talk about the constant changes in K-12 education that don’t allow us to measure anything since there is nothing to compare one cohort to another to figure out if the change had any effect.

In the higher ed world, although I haven’t heard the pejorative teaching to the test description, education in the professions leans in the direction of teaching to the test. To gain licensure in a profession requires a student to have graduated from an accredited program before they can sit for the exam (plus in some cases other requirements).  Engineering, accounting, medicine and others are all bound by an accreditation process (if the department or college or university chooses to become accredited), that is based upon licensure requirements even if the student chooses not to become professionally licensed.  For example, in engineering many engineers are not licensed.  My guess is you would not visit a doctor who did not have a license to practice medicine.

The accreditation process is a formal review of the materials offered to students, the assessment and evaluation processes employed, the qualifications of the faculty, etc.  Although most accreditation agencies do not prescribe courses, they do require that a certain set of material is learned by the students.   Even if a school employs quite liberal teaching methods, such as integrating humanities with STEM courses, or as in the case of Georgia Tech’s Threads undergraduate computer science curriculum, the materials required for accreditation must be demonstrably taught and learned.  The accreditation and licensure processes are in place to deal with issues of liability among other things.

I’m looking at the Connectivist and other self-directed learning processes as quite enlightening and exciting for faculty and students.  On the other hand I’m trying to sort through how we don’t give away the professional standards (in my world of being a computer scientist and engineer) that make me feel more comfortable when I visit my doctor, get on an airplane, or take an elevator to the 40th floor of a building.   A version of Problem Based Learning has been successfully employed in medical education for many years, and the graduates of those programs do in fact pass their professional exams and practice medicine.  Although PBL is not as wide open as Connectivist learning, it is a type of self-directed-learning. You can poke at PBL for medical education at our favorite, Wikipedia, or at the McMaster University web site where it started.

I’m going to keep on thinking and hope the Change community will think about it as well.

PS, I won’t even bring up the so-called accreditation organizations that deal with accreditation of universities that are a requirement placed on most universities that is onerous, bureaucratic and from what I can see, are self-serving agencies that waste the time of faculty and administrators without producing any improvements in the educational process at the universities.   OK, I brought them up.