Realizing That Passing the Exams Wasn’t the Hard Part!

I think that the main issue for using the wrong assessment techniques is the fact that we have lost the big picture! Why are we assessing the learners? What are they getting out of this assessment? and what are we preparing them for?

The first question is why are we assessing the learners? 

Well, the answer to this question seems pretty straight forward! Learning is a process that needs practice… I might think that I have learned a concept however as soon as someone asks me to explain what the concept really is about, I start to understand that maybe I have not fully understood all the aspects of this concept! One important factor in the learning process, is involving group work since how others observe and understand what we have learned will definitely open our eyes to a lot of things that we might not have thought of.

The second question is what are the learners getting out of this?

Now let’s take a step back and think… Does the leaner need to learn how to solve a system of non-liner equations? or learn why this solving method is being used from the first place? How about if we ask them to consider two cars driving towards each other, and ask them to find out at what exact time they will hit each other considering that we know the speed and acceleration of both cars. This is called sideways learning which triggers the creativity of students and motivates them to look for methods for solving this problem. This might even lead them to finding something new! Also, if they are going off on a tangent we can guide them to the right direction by giving them clues such as asking questions like what do we want to find? How can we simplify this problem? Such examples exist in all disciplines and will excite the learner and motivate them to learn new concepts.

Now what are we preparing them for?

At the end we are preparing the learners to solve real life problems with what they know while being creative and practical. This approach can solve both old and new problems, wheres the conventional method is mostly preparing the learners to solve the previously solved problems. This is what they should be assessed on… Can they solve the problem? Can they adapt what they have learned to new problems? Can they use new techniques and think outside the box? Does their solution make sense?

Of course this makes it very hard for the instructors since now they need to fully understand the topic that they are teaching, the problems that can be solved using the tools that they give to students, the alternative approaches to what they know, potential creative approaches that might make sense, etc… A rubric which requires you to take 2 points off if a student has 0.28 instead of 0.2 will definitely not do the job! I would say that at least in my case I can say that this conventional approach increased my stress level and forced me to just study for the exams, instead of looking outside the book and understanding why I am learning what I am learning . . . Coming to graduate school, I realized that there is so much more to what we learned and the exams did not really prepare me for what I need to do at this stage of my life! I am not sure if they were a useful life skill at all! Today I look back and think passing all those brutal engineering exams wasn’t the hard part! Applying all those concepts to my research problem today is the hard part! I wish I was prepared for applying my knowledge and not for solving a problem during a timed period which I studied so hard for to make sure that I have a rubric for it in my mind so that I can wrap it up during the timed period!