The Ultimate ‘Outcome’

January 17, 2010

We often use the example of assessing driving skills in faculty development workshops.

We like the example because most of us feel that we know a good driver when we see one (and that we’re good drivers!), but it is an immediately difficult skill to assess. Try developing a rubric for driving skills…

There are also lots of regional peculiarities that help personalize the conversation. Examples:

  • Jug handles in New Jersey
  • Ice/snow driving in Maine
  • Requirement in Connecticut to verify that you are not a child molester when purchasing/operating a van (!)

In one such workshop, a teacher made a terrific assessment insight: they argued that observing how a driver acted at a suburban stop sign would tell you a lot about their driving skill and attitude. Do they:

  • Screech to a halt?
  • Roll through the stop sign?
  • Ignore the “if two cars arrive at the same time to a 4-way stop, the car to your right goes first” rule?
  • Let the car’s momentum end, then accelerate away after looking both ways?

This ‘outcome’ trumps a lot of minute detail that ‘experts’ try to build into such assessments (remember, everyone thinks they know how to drive, so their rubrics are immediately complex).

Last night I saw the documentary film In A Dream, which contains an even higher level form of outcome: if you were trying to measure parenting skill, imagine what would become evident if an adult child of the parent created a documentary. And captured on film the father abandoning the mother for another woman. After 40 years of marriage.

It’s a great documentary, available on DVD. And how more subjective can you get than parenting over a lifetime? The results require thinking and analysis on the ‘assessors’ part – obviously any filmmaker will have an agenda, a viewpoint, and edit footage for certain effect. But the film feels like an authentic, balanced portrait and is intensely moving.

Assessing a presentation, or a collage, or a term paper should seem fairly simple in comparison. So rather than worry about multiple criteria measured nine different ways, think about what leading indicators are appropriate for your students and the task at hand.

ePortfolios hijacked…and the teacher as test pilot…

December 27, 2007

A couple of terrific articles recently that have serious implications (and lots to teach us) as educators.

The first, from Campus Technology, argues that higher education has co-opted the ePortfolio from its intended role as a reflective and creative student project to become a tool for accreditation reporting. Since our focus with Waypoint has always been on the assessment engine, and not the attempt to build yet another portfolio solution, we are in total agreement.

The second article, from The New Yorker magazine, makes a devastating case against the medical establishment (you’d think we would have run out of reasons to bash medicine) and its hubris. Atul Gawande makes a compelling comparison between contemporary medical doctors and the test pilots of The Right Stuff fame. As a teacher, the comparison hit home. Could simple checklists help our students complete the tasks we assign more creatively and more competently?

Here are the citations:

  1. Trent Batson, “The ePortfolio Hijacked, Campus Technology, 12/12/2007
  2. Atul Gawande, “Annals of Medicine: The Checklist,” The New Yorker, 12/10/2007

Dr. Helen Barrett, who has been writing about ePortfolios for years in a variety of media, summarized the issue with the use of ePortfolios eloquently in her blog: Read the rest of this entry »