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Page history last edited by Matthew Allen 14 years, 4 months ago

I think that it is worth looking at some of the ways that Web 2.0 may change assessment over the longer future.


It is often said that new technologies first replicate what existing technologies can do, then enhance it and finally transform it.  A good example is cast iron.  The earliest cast iron structures used mortice and tenon joints and construction techniques very similar to what had been done with wood.  Then it was enhanced through rivets and the ability to create larger spans and finally it transformed building with structures like the Crystal Palace.


We are going to see much the same with Web 2.0 and many of the areas that it touches, including assessment.  Where assessment processes are being replicated in a Web 2.0 environment we are bound to have difficulties as we are trying to force a new technology with its own particular affordances into a shape dictated by the affordances of older technologies and work practices.


It is likely that we are going to see several new patterns emerging as a result of Web 2.0 being available for assessment, though many of these are already being practiced in niche areas.  Among the changes are the following

  • Peer assessment and review,
  • Public assessment,
  • Assessment of process,

Looking at each of these:


Peer assessment and review


Considerable use is already made of peer assessment in some areas both because it is a very powerful educational tool for the learner and because it can reduce the workload for the "teacher".  Web 2.0 implies the ability of users to comment on the work of others including the possibilities of rating and verbal comments.  Students learn from reflecting on the work of their peers as well as by reflecting on their own work.  This can be built into the assessment process.  For instance, students could be asked to review, comment on and even grade three of their peers work.


Of course, there are problems with this

  • can students be trusted to give "fair" grades to their colleagues?
  • Do students have the ability to comment on the work of others?
  • Peers are less likely to know what has been missed out, than the ability to comment on what is there including structure and argument.
  • Care has to be taken that it does not increase the workload for the teacher who may feel it necessary to mark all the work and the comments.
  • The process has to be thought through to prevent it being used to encourage plagiarism (for instance all the work might have to be submitted before the peer review begins).


However, these problems insuperable, and there are other problems too.  Should the markers collaborate or work individually? should it be blind? should the reviewers be anonymous as far as the original creator is concerned?


Public assessment


This is similar to peer assessment, but takes the idea a stage further, where the students' work is made publicly available, and anyone can comment.  This could be through university sites, but there are beginning to be some more interesting ideas.  For instance, some lecturers are asking their students to improve Wikipedia pages.  This can be very powerful as the student knows that what they write will be publicly available, they know that the audience is wider than simply their teacher and that there is some real point to the work.  It can strongly motivate them to go further than they otherwise would.  They can also see if others change what they have written - which is a form of public assessment.  Again there are problems that need to be worked out including:

  • what happens when another student elsewhere (or indeed anyone else) is also editing the page for their course work and adds what the student was going to?
  • pages that are likely to cause "flame wars" are probably best avoided.
  • Some pages will start better than others which may make improving them harder.


One of the possibilities raised by 'public assessment' is the need to look at theories of media and communication as the source of ideas and explanation for such activities. Fundamentally, public assessment involves the use of 'the audience' (those reading / viewing the students' work) to create an authentic context, to promote active engagement of students and those beyond the classroom, and to motivate and shape production. (Matt Allen)



Assessment of process


Assessment of the processes already happens in some areas, most notably in the fine arts, where students have to produce a portfolio which shows how they have developed their ideas, intermediate pieces that they have produced along the way and why they are taking the project in certain directions.  This means that the end result of the project can be a "failure" so long as there is a valid route.  They may have produced an excellent piece of work, and then want to see what happens when they push this a lot further with the end result not being what they want.


The same can be done in other areas.  Students can be expected to show where they want to take an idea (an essay title, a piece of project work, an experiment), produce an initial annotated reading list of what they have looked at - why they think it might be relevant (or not) etc.  From this they can develop the idea further and sketch out what the results might look like (the structure of the essay with key arguments, the nature of the experiment etc).  This can the be taken further.  The end result may not be what they wanted, but because they have the evidence of their approach they can afford to take greater risks, and so learn more.


The key point here is that students are not only demonstrating that they understand something, but they are also able to demonstrate that they have used a sound approach in tackling the problem. This will become increasingly important as the half-life of knowledge decreases (ie knowledge soon becomes out of date), while the techniques for finding, assessing, evaluating, reviewing and constructing knowledge are much more long-lived.



This is not intended to be in any sense exhaustive, simply to indicate that there will be significant changes to the ways that assessment is undertaken over the next few years, and that these will be driven in part by the new affordances offered by Web 2.0, and in part by the quality agencies and other external drivers (including the political).  However, history suggests that it will be a long slow task, and that there will be many whos will say that it is "dumbing down" and that only the old ways are valid.


Comments (2)

Kathleen Gray said

at 8:30 am on Nov 23, 2009

Tom: Thanks for this thoughtful and timely contribution to today's roundtable. Regards, Kathleen

Bobby Elliott said

at 12:01 am on Nov 24, 2009

Thanks for this piece, Matthew. Very thought-provoking.

The research on peer assessment pretty much confirms that it is valid and reliable. Most of your concerns are not borne out in practice. One suggestion I like is to correlate teacher and peer assessment and when they (broadly) agree (as they do most of the time) then the marks are accepted; when they significantly deviate, some form of moderation takes place.

I particularly like your public ("open"?) assessment". At the very least, this could provide an element of moderation to marking. For example, if a tutor didn't particularly like a piece of work that subsequently received some public acknowledgement (such as votes on Scribd or praise on a blog or hits on a wiki page) then, perhaps, the teacher could reconsider his/her marks.

I would add self-assessment to your list. I think Web 2 is well suited to some form of self-assessment. So, a contemporary rubric would involve self-, peer-, public/open, and teacher assessment in some combination.

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