Monday, July 21, 2008

Authentic assessment of learning in global contexts

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Nils Peterson, Gary Brown, Jayme Jacobson, Theron DesRosier

The AAC&U 2009 conference, Global Challenge, College Learning, and America’s Promise asks a series of questions about “the relationship between college learning and society” and the Call for Proposal notes “[College and university] failure to fully engage our publics with the kinds of learning best suited to our current needs…”

The following is an abstract submitted in response to the Call above. It served as an opportunity to “rise above” our work on these topics and reflect on its implications.


Assessment of learning by a community inside and outside the classroom is a key component to developing students’ global competencies and building a strong relationship between college learning and society.

In 2007-08 Washington State University conducted an ePortfolio Contest to demonstrate ways to harness the interests and expertise of the WSU community to address real world problems encountered by communities both locally and globally. It called upon contestants to collaborate with community members - institutional, local, or global – to identify a problem, explore solutions, develop a plan, and then take steps toward implementing that plan. Contestants were asked to use electronic portfolios to capture and reflect on their collaborative problem-solving processes and the impact of their projects. Judges from industry, the local community, and WSU used a rubric based on the WSU Critical Thinking Rubric to evaluate the portfolios. Since the contest, we have been distilling design principles for portfolios that facilitate learning.

This exploration has taught us to value the learner consciously leaving a ‘learning trace’ as they work on a problem, and we believe the capturing and sharing of that trace is an important part of documenting learning. A striking example illustrating a learning trace in a portfolio is one of the winners in our contest. Not only does this portfolio exhibit a learning trace, it captures feedback from the community regarding the quality of the work. A recent AAC&U survey of employers supports this bias for richer documentation of learner skills.

Our thinking about portfolios for learning is moving us away from traditional ideas about courses contained in classrooms and toward Stephen Downes’ eLearning 2.0 ideas: “Students' [learning portfolios] are often about something from their own range of interests, rather than on a course topic or assigned project. More importantly, what happens when students [work in this way], is that a network of interactions forms-much like a social network, and much like Wenger's community of practice.” And far from being trivial social networking, our portfolio contest captured rich and substantive learning happening in the community outside the classroom.

But documentation of learning, without feedback, guidance and assessment leaves the learner to work without the support of a community, which has led us to a recognition that grade books are QWERTY artifacts of a Learning 1.0 model. To address that, we have been exploring ways to transform the grade book to support learners working simultaneously within the university and within their communities of practice. This approach to a grade book has the additional benefit for the scholarship of teaching and learning of gathering feedback on the assignment, course and program from the community at the same time that it invites the community to assess a learner’s work. Such feedback can help the university engage its publics in a discussion of the kinds of learning most suited to current needs.

The questions in the AAC&U Call will be used to help the audience highlight and frame the discussion of our ideas.


The Call “invites proposals of substantive, engaging sessions that will raise provocative questions, that will engage participants in discussion, and that will create and encourage dialogue--before, during, and after the conference itself.”

In the spirit of the AAC&U call, you are invited to engage this discussion before or after the conference by posting comments here, on the related pages, or by tracking back from your own blog, and then meet us in Seattle to further the conversation.

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