Assessment is the Curriculum… or is it?

I have been dealing with young people for most of my adult life, and I do not recognise them in the demonisation they are receiving today. I was appalled by the UC Davis incident last week. I couldn’t believe the preparations made for the student march earlier this month (rubber bullets?)

I think of the references to students heard in meetings I go to at the University. They are viewed by some as always trying to beat the system, generally untrustworthy, and trying to get away with doing as little as possible to get a degree.

I know hundreds of current and past students, and they are not as described above. Many of the students I know come to University to learn. Too many lecturers ascribe other reasons for students entering HE.

It was Ramsden (2003) who articulated what many in education think today when he wrote “…from our students’ point of view, assessment always defines the actual curriculum.” Meaning, that students will only learn what the have to in order to pass the class. We also hear that the majority of students only come to university to get a degree -> that will lead to a good job.

For a long time, I used to believe this, but that’s not my experience with the real students I deal with every day. And, that’s not what the actual evidence says. The three pillars of the assessment defining the curriculum view are works done in the late 60’s and early 70’s: Becker, Geer and Hughes (1968), Snyder (1971), and Miller and Parlett (1974). In Miller & Parlett’s study, 5/30 participants could be definitely put in the category of focusing on assessment (not overwhelming evidence by any standards). Snyder concluded that students are generally assessment driven, but doesn’t provide enough detailed evidence in the study to really support the statement. Becker, Geer & Hughes did find that the majority of students in their study were assessment (or grade-point) driven, but concluded that their sample was unusual, and doubted they would find the same thing with a different group of students.

A few years ago, I (along with one of my colleagues) presented some finding about the second point (students only being interested in degrees). We found that there was no clear cut answer to why students study. It was almost as if there are as many reasons and motivations as there are students. Difficult to make any sweeping statements about why students were studying and what their motivations were.

Not the kind of evidence upon which to build the caricature of a student so widely accepted today.

I find that students are still looking for learning. They want to know and understand the world. They want us (the rest of us) to treat them like adults, forgive their foibles and help them become something they can be proud of. They work hard, they do what we ask, and they want to contribute.

Too many lecturers are almost afraid of students and what they represent. Just treat them as co-academics and they will act like co-academics. It is time for us to stop demonising them and help them become who they really want to be.

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What do these walls say…

I have heard Michael Wesch speak a couple of times, and find the direction he is going is exciting, fascinating, and frightening. After re-viewing John Naughton’s ALT-C 2011 keynote where he referred to Wesch’s work as a good guess at the future of successful teaching, I watched a couple of his youtube videos to remind me of some of his points.

If these walls could talk… What would they say. Against a backdrop of Anywhere U’s full lecture theatre (I’ve been there plenty) Wesch asks what the traditional lecture theatre represents. He makes the following list:

– to learn is to acquire information
– information is scarce and hard to find
– trust authority for good information
– authorised information is beyond discussion
– obey authority
– follow along

Completely true – but completely out of touch in todays world.

As I talk to people about teaching in the C21, I worry about where we are headed. John Naughton outlined three case studies (music industry, classified ads, and encyclopedias) where the principles involved were sideswiped by the changes brought about by the internet. The funny thing is was that as most of us saw their resistance to new ways of doing things, we collectively shook our heads at their obstinance in clinging to what (from the outside) were such obviously outdated business models. How could they have been so blind? They were so caught up in their centrality to the model, they were unable to foresee their own obsolescence looming (and in some cases are still fighting it). They were (are) dealing with information that was ideal for digital delivery, but couldn’t see how that might impact them. They were so committed to their own view of the world, they were blind to the changes until it was too late.

Are we, in HE, doing the same thing. Think about the lecture theatre and what it says about learning. Think about our insistance on continuing the lecture as the principle form of teaching.

Too many lecturers are defending the lecture (theatre) and all it stands for in the face of overwealming changes that are battering us on every side.

The Lecture Theatre is Dead, Long Live the Lecture Theatre!