What does it mean when graduates of education systems are able to identify and solve problems, and make contributions to society throughout their lifetime (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000)? How can educators assess the development of problem solving or higher-level thinking skills and make sure that students are able to succeed in transferring their knowledge and skills to the complexities of a real-life environment? What role can technology play in augmenting what learners can do? These questions and related issues have fascinated educators and educational researchers for years. However, given the opportunities and challenges that distance education and online learning have opened up to educators, these issues are essential for the design and structure of effective online learning environments, and as such, these are the questions and related issues discussed in this article.
Background, Definitions, Rationale
Criticisms of traditional classroom-based assessment methods are well established in the education literature (e.g., Frederiksen, 1984; Gardner, 1985; Resnick, 1987; Resnick & Resnick, 1992; Smith, 1986; Soep, 2006;). Critiques often mention that too much emphasis centers on measurement and ranking and too little on how assessment can serve as an episode of learning that is consistent with the larger goals and practices of preparing students for real-life situations or what is called “21st century skills” (Bennett, Persky, Weissm, & Jenkins (NAEP), 2007). It is argued that conventional assessment methods or testing procedures often privilege discrete bits of knowledge over performances that reveal applied knowledge and skills (Frederiksen, 1984; Gardner, 1985; Resnick & Resnick, 1992; Smith, 1986). Furthermore, assessment of a student’s complex abilities or life-like performance requires a complex and formative assessment process and is not supported by conventional forms of assessment, which are focused on summative judgment of simplified and routine problems or questions. In other words, there is a distinction between “assessment of learning” (assessment for the purposes of grading and reporting with its own established procedures) and “assessment for learning” (assessment whose purpose is to enable students, through effective feedback, to understand more fully their own learning and the goals they are aiming for” (Elwood & Klenowski, 2002, p. 243). While the former emphasizes results of student learning, the latter places the student and learning in the center for the assessment as an instructional practice and aims to contribute to learning processes (Black & William, 1998).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Summative Assessment: Provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate conceptual understanding at a particular time.
Simple Learning Outcomes: Are a string of simplified, component task procedures. They are the separate skills that constitute complex tasks.
Authentic, Real-World Activities: Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than decontextualised or classroom-based tasks.
Formative Assessment: Provide an opportunity for learners to experiment in a safe environment and to identify their own level of performance and how they might improve their future performances.
Cognitive Tools: Are computer-based tools that allow learners to engage in cognitive authentic activities that would be out of their reach otherwise.
Complex Learning Outcomes: Refer to integrated sets of learning goals—multiple performance objectives that emphasize coordination and integration of separate skills that constitute real-life task performance. In complex learning the whole is clearly more than the sum of its parts because it also includes the ability to coordinate and integrate those parts (Van Merriënboer, Clark, & de Croock, 2002).
Computerized Assessment System: The use of information technology for any assessment-related activity.