What are we trying to do here?

This post was inspired by what were for me some completely unrelated conversations that I have had over the last month or so and that have stuck with me, and the crystallized for me this afternoon when I happened to catch this exchange between David Wees (@davidwees) and Chris Kennedy (@chrkennedy) when something clicked.

I really have no idea what they were talking about, even though our two provinces share a several thousand kilometre border, events in BC sometimes might as well be on another planet for all we get to hear about them here in Alberta. So I filled in the blanks in my head and came up with the idea that British Columbia had done that which I dream that province would do and eliminated some or all of their standardized provincial exams. I really have no idea if that’s true, but in the context of what I took it to mean it caused me one of those ‘aha’ moments. If BC has really done what I think it’s done than David’s comment seems to say that there has really been little change in the way assessment is done, and this concerns me. Why would teachers not take advantage of the opportunity to actually produce something better if the opportunity is there.
Danger de mortphoto © 2009 Frédéric BISSON | more info (via: Wylio)

Then I remembered two discussions that I had that were discussing assessment on our side of the border. In one conversation I engaged in about some assessment ideas I remember the phrase “but we have to train (the word practice might have been used but this is where my mind went) the students to do multiple-choice exams.” However I think that our students have probably been doing multiple choice since grade one, so how much more practice did they really need?

Another discussion was one that I had with a student who told me that their teacher had told them that they weren’t allowed to do ‘anything’ at home for assessment, since they might get help on it. I understand that fear, to a certain extent, especially within the system that currently exists in post-secondary institutions students do need to prove that they can do something. However which is the most likely course of action for somebody in the work world? They bury themselves on the problem by themselves or they seek advice from the multitude of people who usually offer help.

All this leads to the question I posed at the top of this post. “Just what are we trying to do here?” Why don’t we change? Really are we so overworked that no one can take the time? Are we just too comfortable in the way that we do it? Do we do it that way because that was the way we did it when we were in school? Are we phobic?

I know this is not a new problem for educators, others have produced videos asking similar questions, and I am just a lowly teacher tucked away in a cold corner of the world, but it strikes me that the urgency is now. In a globalized environment we have to think differently.

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