The Primary Challenge for the OER Movement

David Wiley recently posted an article on the challenge of assessment in the OER world. http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2042
It certainly does seem to be a challenge – we (SNHU Innovation team) spent time with ETS at their Higher Ed Advisory Council last week in San Diego where we had some great break-out discussions around standardized testing. It was a great session; they have some VERY smart employees in Princeton (special mentions for Ross, Patrick, Kate and David) and they convened a very interesting group of academics.

The current assessment choice for those of us working in the OER space seems to be:

  • on one hand, multiple choice / self-checks – with no concrete feedback from humans (many OER courses have these included)
  • on the other –  blog / journal reviews which are time-consuming (hence questionable given scaling aspirations),  subjective, organization-specific, open to inflation, bias and inconsistent leveling.

I appreciated the Vision Project’s* working group March 2011 report on Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment which I think frames the issue very clearly (the bold is my highlight)

If colleges and universities … are to devise a system for assessing the learning outcomes of their undergraduates in a way that allows for comparability, transparency, and accountability, we must agree on some of the qualities of an undergraduate education that we all expect our students to possess. At the same time, those qualities we agree on must allow us to preserve the unique missions of individual colleges, appropriate measures of privacy around assessment work, and an ability to actually improve teaching and learning with the results that we find.
Research and literature on sound assessment practice is clear that no single instrument or approach to assessing learning can meet all of the challenges and notes that the most effective systemic models of assessment offer multiple measures of student learning in a triangulation approach. The most effective systemic models of assessment offer multiple measures of student learning in a “triangulation” approach that includes indirect assessments such as surveys, direct assessments like tests, and embedded assessments such as classroom assignments.

This notion of triangulation seems viable – mixing in institutional (mission-related) emphases, with quick turnaround self-checks. The missing (third) element is the industry-standard independent test. In some disciplines – Project Management (PMI), IT (Microsoft), HR (PHR, SPHR) there are clear standards that can be applied. There is certainly a window of opportunity for someone like ETS to take a lead on this, if they can develop the adaptability of development and pricing that we, and other college partners, would likely need. I hope that as colleges free up Instructional Design time that they would typically have been spending making *another* version of PSYCH101 content (which is freely available and wonderful at Saylor.org), they spend more time on developing key benchmarks for assessment that can become more widely disseminated.
Assessment is indeed the golden bullet for this work. Ideally it’s fun too.

* The Working Group on Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment (WGSLOA) was established by Richard Freeland, Commissioner of Higher Education, in late fall 2009 in anticipation of the Vision Project, a bold effort to set a public agenda for higher education and commit public campuses and the Department/Board of Higher Education to producing nationally leading educational results at a time when the need for well-educated citizens and a well- prepared workforce is critical for the future of the Commonwealth.
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