True That

Reflecting on an idea posed in Mary J. Allen’s Assessing General Education Programs (2006):

Assessment should be conducted as open inquiry, focused on learning that is important, and we have to recognize that some learning outcomes will be hard to achieve. (p. 16)

My interpretation of open inquiry is linked back to being a curious learner, and these are the questions I ask of my colleagues when consulting with them about their assessment plans and goals:

  • What do you want to know about your students’ learning?
  • About your program’s educational effects and effectiveness?
  • About how the assignments, courses, curriculum, and program work to facilitate learning?
  • About what might make them work better?
  • In other words, what do you want to LEARN and why?
  • (Not: what do you want to prove or disprove?)

When thinking about assessing learning that is important, I have to question why we might address learning that is not important. If it’s not important, then maybe we don’t need to focus on it (and thus we don’t need to assess it). But if it’s important — if it matters — then we should claim that it matters, teach it like it matters, and assess it like we care about it. Otherwise, what’s the point? Learning should matter.

And as for learning that may be hard to achieve? True that. Some learning is hard to achieve, but perhaps not as much when teaching is purposefully designed to achieve it. I think of techniques such as scaffolding, integrating and applying learning authentically, and having students reflect on learning, all of which make learning more accessible, more deep, more significant. Yep, some learning will be hard to achieve — and accordingly, some learning will be hard to assess (and I argue, may not be “measurable”). But we also can accept the challenge of designing our curriculum and pedagogy for learning achievement. This is how teaching, learning, and assessment can work together.

True that.

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