Friday, 26 August 2011

E-Assessment Scotland Conference 2011

I attended the E-Assessment Scotland Conference 2011 today at the University of Dundee. It was my first time at this event. I really enjoyed it. Although most attendees came from the university sector, the college sector was well represented, with 13 Scottish colleges in attendance. I didn't see any school representatives on the list of attendees.

It followed the usual conference template of keynote speakers and seminars and workshops. The keynotes were uniformly good. The first keynote - from Steve Wheeler of Plymouth University - focussed on the potential of ICT to provide feedback to students. His key message was that UK education focusses on surface learning -- learning that is easy to measure rather than learning that people need to survive and prosper in the 21st Century. He criticised the lack of feedback given to learners: "I got more positive feedback from E-Bay than in 14 years of education."

A recurring theme during the conference was people's preference for Web 2.0 tools and services rather than VLEs and e-assessment systems. Several presenters pointed out that teachers and students preferred to use the same tools for learning that they use as part of the "normal" lives, and found VLEs to be alien.

The afternoon keynote, delivered by Donald Clark, was particularly challenging. Donald argued that assessment is not keeping up with external changes. He criticised the "obsession with factual knowledge" rather than "real learning", and emphasised to importance of learning by doing. He, too, was unimpressed with VLEs and e-portfolio systems. Donald argued for "less assessment, more use of formative assessment, more peer assessment, and greater use of simulations and games-based assessment". He was particularly critical of the lecture system in Higher Education, which, he argued, was only good for knowledge transfer, and ineffective for deep learning.

I was invited to participate in the panel session at the end of the conference, which I enjoyed. One of the questions asked was about trends in e-assessment. I expressed my view that we are in the middle of a technological revolution in society but only at the start of the corresponding educational revolution. Education is conservative and moves slowly, but radical change is coming.

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