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eAssessment Scotland 2012 August 31, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, research.
Tags: , ,

It’s a different way to spend one of your days of annual leave, but since it was the school holidays and I wouldn’t have to seek permission to be absent, I took the opportunity to attend the ‘live’ element of the eAssessment Scotland 2012 Conference. I have to confess the cost was a major factor in attracting me (free!), though the opportunity to come north of the border and visit Dundee, a city with which I have little familiarity were also strong draws.keynote

The day consisted of a series of keynotes and optional seminars/workshops so the programme I enjoyed looked like:

  • Keynote from Prof David Boud (Uni. of Technology, Sydney), on New Conceptions of Feedback
  • Seminar from a team at Edinburgh Napier Uni., on online assessments to support progression in professional practice
  • Seminar from Colin Maxwell (Carnegie College) on the challenge that MOOCs might be offering
  • Keynote from Russell Stannard (Warwick Uni.) on changing the way we provide feedback
  • Seminar from Dr Sue Timms (Bristol Uni.) outlining research into factors affecting transformation of assessment and feedback mechanisms
  • Seminar from Cherry Hopton and students (Angus College) on socialising assessment
  • Keynote from Cristina Costa (Salford Uni.) on the role of the participatory Web in providing feedback

The delegate list was dominated by colleagues from the tertiary sector, so I was slightly worried I’d turned up to a formal dinner wearing a batman costume. Though the content leaned towards tertiary, it was more than possible to find relevance for the findings and observations from that particular context in my own experiences in secondary. There are after all some universals and it is those general principles that I’ll outline from here.

Though the event sponsors were largely companies providing products which offer technological solutions or support for assessment, I felt the ‘e’ that headed the conference title was small both in actuality and in its intrusion into the main theme of the conference. The focus was clearly on assessment and more especially (if you look at the three keynotes) on formative assessment processes. As Sue Timms’ findings showed, assessment is a rather ornery beast, not keen on being pulled in another direction. When you couple that with technological enhancements, you’re in some ways doubling the factors which some might use to resist any form of transformation, rather than potentially making life easier or more importantly, learning more effective. We saw plenty of examples of new ways in which assessment can be enabled, enhanced or extended through the use of technology. Though we also saw people in organisations (Napier & Angus) who had the freedom to change their assessment regimes in such a way as to provide positive experiences for their learners, it is here where the major problem pops up for me. In the secondary sector, the major influence on assessment strategies is the examination system. High-stakes, summative, largely externally assessed, behind closed doors and most importantly of all, entangled with accountability, of schools and the teachers within them. In the minds of the majority who work under those constraints, there is neither room, nor incentive for innovative or transformative forms of assessment. It will come as no surprise that there is also a minority who experiment with interesting alternative forms of assessment and are often also those experimenting with new technologies. It’s not that ‘e’ and assessment go together (though in the context of the conference, they clearly do!), it’s more that the educators for whom these things are important are the ‘tinkerers’ and explorers who want to know if there is anything better out there. They’re open to new ideas, enjoy a challenge and are prepared to fly in the face of convention. If the progress many of them are achieving is to gain wider acceptance, I feel that the constraints the ‘system’ is imposing (whether actual or perceived) need loosening so the actors in this arena feel empowered to explore more progressive assessment techniques. Sadly, that politicians of whatever hue continue to use data from traditional assessments as their weapon of choice doubtless means that progress will be … steady.

(For ‘steady’ read glacial!)

On a separate issue, it was great to hook up with friends from north of the border, Colin Maxwell, David Noble & John Johnston and also to hear about Doug Belshaw’s new exploits.