Learning how to think

The article (in The Independent this morning, Thursday, 17th February 2011) from which I quote below is a little off-topic for this blog–it’s nothing to do with SL or virtual worlds per se–but resonates so strongly with me that I have to post it.  Year on year, I have some few final-year undergraduates asking me “What do I have to do to achieve an A-grade?” with, clearly in their minds, the assumption that assessment is about the simple matching of canned responses to a finite set of standard questions.  In general I have been disappointed to note that, module documentation notwithstanding, such students would appear to see the module and its assessment as a generic academic exercise rather than, as I’ve endeavoured to present it, effectively a vocational apprenticeship in which I stress that

You are being assessed on your professionalism in executing the project to appropriate standards and thus on your fitness to practice on graduation.  The grade you receive on completion of the project will be a measure of your employability in the field of virtual world development.

I believe my assessment strategy is fundamentally correct: thorough, rigorous, and focused on the key professional skills and knowledge that students would need to have acquired in order to work in the field, it is designed to measure ‘fitness to practice’, with students encouraged to base their assessable work on projects for real clients and the assessed professional skills going beyond the purely technical to include project management, client liaison, project review meetings with the client, and procedures for hand-over on completion of the project.

A small number of students would appear to have felt uncomfortable with the client-oriented design of the assessment strategy, having instead the expectation of a more classically secondary school model of specific ‘hoops and hurdles’, each quantitatively indexed to specific percentages or grades. This arguably accounts for such feedback comments as:

“The marking criteria is incredibly abstract and ‘acting professional’ in delivery of content is so vague its mind boggling.”

and the rather disconcertingly one-size-fits-all model:

“we did our best to create a standard report expected of any module” (my emphases)

I could consequently relate to the views expressed in the article by Rachel Spedding, managing director of Oxbridge Applications:

Are school students becoming spoon-fed exam machines?
But how will I know the answers if I don’t know what the questions will be?” This, believe it or not, is a question hundreds of Oxbridge applicants ask every year as they prepare for interview. The speed of the internet and the amount of information that can be accessed in a flash have contributed to a generation of school-leavers convinced that access to technology is all you need to answer questions and that being able to answer questions is all you need to succeed. Why should you think for yourself when there is a tool that can do it for you?
Something has gone badly wrong in the education system, now that we have ended up with so many students glaring at admissions tutors for asking a question they are not expecting; unable to deal with its unpredictability.
What we need to work towards is an education system that gives students the skills to solve problems creatively and with structure, rather than depend on a set of rules.

[Read the full article in The Independent]


About Christopher Hutchison

Museologist, cognitive dissident, political grouch, curmudgeonly bibliophage, and all round jolly nice chap.
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