BALTIMORE — When talking about learning and assessment, it is critical to identify the terms of engagement. And this should not merely be a mental workout in vocabulary building; it should be a practice that represents reflection upon the changed nature of the broader cultural context of the digital age and an opportunity to reframe our objectives. In short, the language we use matters; it has repercussions in policy, in innovation, and in practice.
I’d like to offer a few terms we’ve been tossing around here at DHF and get your feed on what’s crucial and what might be missing.
1. Granular — This is the term-of-the-moment with regard to the “badge movement” in education. Savvy analytics and easily-accessible portfolio-style demonstrations of learning are at the heart of the developing and (ideally) personalized granular movement in assessment and perhaps in accreditation/certification. I predict the broad needs of industry and technology forcing secondary and higher ed to come to terms with this sooner than later — especially given our unemployment problem and the cost of college tuition.
2. Real-time — An obvious one. As education opens up to mobile technology, real-time means “learning time”. It also points out something that should be on every admins’ front-burner: hands-on learning related to digital citizenship.
3. Verified — The development of Open Badges, network-authenticated resumes, and the coming semantic web will bring new meaning to “verification”. Learning verified across moments in time and geography and demonstrated by portable certified snippets of validation will challenge the traditional year-by-year tiered model of education over the next several years. Accreditation might just be a bubble. Be ready.
4. Formative — With adaptive learning technologies coming into their own, we are living at the cusp of a golden age in formative assessment. Prediction: this will mark the most important shift in attitudes about education within the culture of educational measurement. Seems so benign, but in some ways, with the near-future re-iteration of the web and the growth of smart technologies, I see this as really the true sci-fi piece of education; and its already happening.
5. Real-world — Students publishing, debating, and learning in public. It is the fear of many an administration and it is the most sure thing coming en masse to education. How? When? Where? TBD. But in the age of higher ed MOOCs and peer assessment, it is only time before best practices in real-world public learning become incorporated in varying degrees in elementary and secondary ed. There are obvious problems on the younger side of this learner spectrum, but I predict savvy technologies that will allow for public learning in a safe and healthy manner.
6. Example-driven — Obviously this has always been a key feature of good teaching, but in the connected age it becomes the standard of learning. Because no matter what happens in the classroom, students now always have access to examples online. This is much more of a challenge to the traditional authority-structure of schools than it might appear on first blush.
7. Inquiry-based — In some sense, this is at the root of the autodidact’s art; and we are living in a heyday for autodidacts. I can think of nothing as important to good teaching practice in this day and age as passion-driven inquiry-based learning. We are living in an age of inquiry; are we ready to let it happen?
8. Project-demonstrated — Problem solving, project based learning has had an up and down history, especially under the thumb of heavy-handed testing regimes. But in an era when everyone is a maker and everyone is a content creator, I see no reason why we would not see not only a rebirth of project based learning, but a transformation of hyperlocal-meets-global pbl on a big scale. And when I mean big, this is what I’m talking about: the point at which it is ubiquitous and obvious. That’s education reform. We need kids making stuff and we need kids meeting the needs and challenges of their communities while supported and mentored by makers and doers both within and without the classroom.
9. Personalized — This is the term most misused and yet most crucial to the future of education. It’s already a part of almost every other aspect of our lives.
I am not trying to make an argument for technology here. I don’t see any reason to. The technological context of our present moment is obvious, for better or worse; and tech touches all aspects of learning from STEM to the humanities to art to phys ed. I am also not suggesting that these terms, in a variety of formats, have not come up before. Regarding terminology, education is a profession that gives credence to notions of reincarnation. Rather, what I am suggesting is that these terms, and perhaps others, need to be defined or re-defined both in terms of their application to the digital age and in terms of their ability to define the objective of education in that age.
I welcome your own ideas about terms I might have neglected.