Assessment on the Web:
Part 3

Redefining learning on the web.

A series of conversations about the current state and future of learning online. Brought to you by the folks at Peer 2 Peer University.

A Different Way to Look at Learning

What we’d like to suggest is an approach that great instructors already know to be true: when a student gives feedback or support to another student, that process deepens their own understanding. In the case of learning to program, students with expertise actually learn more when they work with students who have less expertise. In writing courses, the research suggests that the act of critiquing another’s work measurably improves the quality of your own. We can associate peer feedback with dozens of other skills, including communication, conflict resolution, negotiation, and empathy.

It’s a bit edu-speak, but bear with us: what we mean to suggest is that you can learn through assessing someone else. That statement has massive implications, good ones, for learning communities on the web. Not only will communities come up with their own notions of quality (the software development community GitHub has “core contributors” as an example) but communities can also scale to meet the needs of many learners in a personal way.

Let that resonate for a second. Scale to meet the needs of learners–in a personal way.

If we recognize that problems might have several answers, and feedback on your project extends your own learning, then every path is unique and personal. This is the promise of assessment on the web.

At P2PU, we’ve experimented quite a bit with peer feedback and collaborative work. We’ve made several prototypes for alternative assessment, and experimented with different kinds of cohorts for learning.

Emerging Themes and Opportunities We’re Excited About

As part of the open & online education community, we’ve come across scores of platforms and learning networks. A few of the ones we admire put in place several of the assessment principles we outlined previously.

  • (Better) learning analytics. And by that, we don’t mean pageviews or time-on-site–those things are easy to measure, but not necessarily what should be measured. We’re interested in how communities establish their notions of quality, and how individuals learn how to become part of a community. SoundCloud features the ability to embed comments within the waveform of a sound (a neat way to indicate quality). Screengrab SoundCloud, CC BY SA Some of the things we would like to see analytics for are patterns of behavior that show learning mindsets, a set of non-cognitive skills and dispositions that turn out to be very important for academic success. For example, when you feel part of a learning community, you’re more likely to overcome setbacks and develop a more positive mindset towards academic work. We’ll be looking at analytics to see which variables or interactions make folks feel like they are “part of” something, or belong.

  • Collaborative video conferencing. Folks in the e-learning space often refer to the importance of developing “social presence” in online courses–or a sense of trust that you’re working with real people. Video conferencing tools like Google Hangout (or our unconference version Unhangout) enable us to work together in real time. Tools like Chef Hangout and Google Helpout are already experimenting in this way, and we have tinkered with real-time “data learning sprints” with the Open Knowledge Foundation. Yet, there is no good way to track what happens in these live sessions and record individual contributions or achievements. In the classroom, it’s easy to keep track of the students who ask good questions, or give helpful answers. To do this at scale, we need to better understand which parts of synchronous conversations we should pay attention to.

  • Curating your own achievements. Portfolios are a great way to show what you’ve done (and what you care about), but they are traditionally bound to the institution, not the individual. Portfolios that live on the web are more flexible and we can tie the opinions of our peers into them. Badges for Lifelong Learning is one way to display the skills you’ve learned in a handy “backpack.” LinkedIn is also attempting to curate recognition with their “endorsements” feature. We’re excited to see how folks put together their array of skills, and how those portfolios might challenge traditional accreditation.

Let’s recap

Accreditation is the main roadblock to innovation in assessment and the wider educational landscape. Credentials are often the gatekeepers to opportunity, recognition, success. Unfortunately, accreditation systems are extremely slow to change, often deeply hierarchical, and transcripts don’t tell us much about interpersonal skills or mastery. But the web can.

On the web, communities come up with their own way to recognize accomplishment. Sometimes they are in line with traditional accreditation and sometimes they are not. These mechanisms are transparent and evolve over time in step with the way communities work and learn. Not surprisingly software developers were the first professional community to do this. They have developed standards of accomplishment and recognition that are built on the web. Other communities are following.

We’ve proposed a number of “opportunities” for how assessment can evolve on the web. The tension between new ways to recognize learning, and the old mechanisms of accrediting learning will increase. And however accreditation shakes out, the web will be an important aspect of how we showcase to others what we have done, the things we have learned, and who we are.

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