Saturday, October 08, 2005

Jody Underwood

What Am I Learning? Performance Feedback in an Open Learning

Jody Underwood, ETS
Friday, September 30, 2005, 10:00-10:45 am

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Getting feedback on your progress is certainly a barrier to open education, except in the most informal environments. Home-schoolers, for example, don’t have access to the same kind of feedback that students get in traditional classroom settings. And it’s common to hear people complain that they can’t learn from self-study materials because they need to be ‘in a class’ to learn. What is it that they’re getting from the class, exactly? Partly, it’s structure and external pressure. But partly it’s feedback.

In order for people in isolated locations and other non-traditional settings to be able to further their educations, they need effective feedback about their performance. This involves helping them figure out what they need to work on, and what they’re in a position to learn given what they know already.

One way to approach this is captured by the concept of cumulative achievement (‘summit-ive’) testing. The idea here is to continually take variations of the same test until you score 100% on it. Helpful feedback describes the areas students still need to work on and what they are ready to learn, guiding them down paths toward mastering all the material.

One of the big changes that open education could bring—if we’re lucky!—is a viable alternative to the (completely insane) idea that everyone should be learning the same material, presented in the same way, at the same pace. One of the things that keeps this idea from being discarded is the current model of assessment, i.e., give everyone the same test at the same time, and then move on, whether the students are ready or not.

Once you break away from that assessment model, to one where any individual can get individualized feedback about his progress, open education would be poised to become the normal model for learning, rather than an alternative to the mainstream.


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