Third Prompt: Assessing the problems with Assessments.

I should confess from the beginning of this post that I am not an engineer. I have never taken an engineering class, I don’t even have any engineers in my family. But when reading Donna Riley’s  paper about engineering assessments I new exactly what she was talking about. She argues “that this immediate crisis in engineering education is the logical result of an outcomes-based approach if what we value is assessable outcomes, then anything that appears difficult to assess (whether or not it is actually difficult to assess) will be devalued, and will ultimately drop off our list of educational goals”. This is certainly true in my field of political science as well.

A study a few years back asked graduates students in the political science department to create a political utopia. They were supposed to be unhindered by any material considerations. This hypothetical exercise was meant was supposed to leverage the creativity and innovative spirit of young scholars. The results were dismal. Not one of them was able to even hypothetically propose a system that differed from the one in which they lived. Their answers instead described minor tweaks in areas like healthcare, welfare programs, and education. This example highlights that overwhelmingly student’s creativity is hindered by something much more foundational. They’re natural problem solving abilities are being crippled by a system which is weighted too much on an “outcome-based approach”. Assessments are changing what we value in the academic world and creating students with a fear of failure. Assessments are an educational tool– a tool that now dictates how we educate students. This is a ludicrous as a hammer that informs the carpenter what he can and cannot build.

3 thoughts on “Third Prompt: Assessing the problems with Assessments.”

  1. I totally agree with you that assessments have a negative effect on students that it makes them worried about failure. But I believe not all forms of assessment are causing this bad effect. I believe that written in-class exams may be responsible of this. Accordingly, we need to find better ways of assessments that are less stressful for students and allow the instructor to better gauge and improve his students’ performance. Assessment is inevitable.

  2. Continuing Mohammed’s arguments – assessment can be made productive.
    Let’s take a simple case:
    1. Grade: B
    2. “XYZ did not do well in the assignment and his work does not seem good enough to be awarded A. Hence, I am giving him B”
    3. “PQR could have improved her assignment by further expanding her arguments. She started well but then lost the way when she got caught up while trying to relate to Buddhist ideas to Hesse’s Siddhartha. It was a brave attempt and she should continue working on that.”

    Assessment should not hinder, and more importantly support, the learning process. Assessment can be made useful tools that support learning and encourage self-assessment. In the above examples, PQR could learn more about her work. I like the hammer analogy that you used but assessments, when execute well, are a combination of tape measure, digital caliper, and a protractor.

  3. Thanks for sharing.

    I agree with you. I also have an example. Some time ago (and using Pink’s motivational strategies) we decided to offer our students the opportunity to gain 5% of the final grade by doing a project call “Your passion,” they were supposed to do a presentation about something they were passionate about (it could be anything), they could work individually or in groups. The outcome was discouraging. All the students were working in teams, and all the presentations were about projects that somehow related to the course learning objectives. The students somehow believed that the only valuable information that would get a good grade had to be related directly to the topics of the class.

    I think that is part of the problem with focusing too much on the final grade rather than learning.

    Thanks for sharing.

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