Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bad Grade = Big Success

We've all heard the infamous story of Fred Smith who supposedly received a C grade on his undergrad term paper outlining the business model for the now famous, billion dollar, multi-national shipping company FedEx.

Educators should not fret over the accuracy of the Fred Smith story. However, we must show concern that our pedagogical process and subsequent metrics are indicative of success outside the classroom.

The answer to WHAT our students will need to succeed in the 21st Century is easy...
Critical Thinking Skills.
The HOW we assess these skills with any degree of accuracy and reliability is just a bit trickier.

One potential resolution is offered (for Free) by the fine folks in the Harvard Education department who have created the "River City Project".

Program director, Chris Dede, describes River City as a multi-user virtual environment on middle school science. The curriculum is centered on skills of hypothesis formation and experimental design, as well as on content related to national standards and assessments in biology and ecology. Our virtual “world” is a city, set in the late 1800’s, and concentrated around a river that runs from the mountains downstream to a dump and a bog. Scientific tools are available (e.g., a virtual microscope that allows examination of water samples). Students work in teams of three or four to develop and test hypotheses about why residents are ill.

He believes the true power of this type of virtual environment is the ability to gather information on the activities of the student that subsequently can be used to paint a more complete picture of not only WHAT they learned, but HOW they learned.

Making the shift from summative, rote memorization to formative, critical thinking assessments will not come without cost. Even if you take advantage of a free program, there still exists the formidable task of orientating and supporting faculty in the use of a completely foriegn form of assessment.

However, the measure of our measurements can not be limited to cost and ease of use. The true test of a test is how accurately it can predict the future success of our students and therefore a nation.

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