We assess as we were assessed

Gary Heard, Whitley College writes:

Not only do we teach as we were taught, as John Capper has highlighted, we also tend to assess as we were assessed.

We are the success stories of the education system. The methods of teaching we experienced, and the forms of assessment we were subject to was a framework which supported our progress “through the system”, and marked us out as high achievers. This shows that we have been good at using words to develop insightful and informed responses to questions we have been asked to address.

Which generally means… we are good with words.

When we look at our assessment policy schedules, and turn our attention to unit outlines for accreditation, this same framework presents itself relentlessly: how many words are required at this particular level our unit is pitched. The vast majority of the assessment tasks are word-focussed and measured by number of words. We expect our students to be good with words.

While words are an important part of communication, they are arguably over-rated in terms of communication impact. Image, sound, and shape are just some of the communication methods employed to change our behaviour and our thinking

Who can forget the image of a young Phan Thi Kim Phuc running from a napalm explosion, or the image of three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi whose body was washed onto a Turkish beach, representing the tragedy facing many seeking asylum? At a more mundane level, how many jingles and songs can you recall?

The task of assessment is not only to assess what a student might have remembered. A good assessment of learning should also provide opportunity to assess impact, ability to communicate ideas (which includes non-textual communication), and creativity.  These aspects will support transition into the world outside of the academy, a world which does not use the terminology employed within the church: a world where words do not dominate.

To move beyond our experience, we need to take risks and embrace the reality that a younger, less wordy, generation (who are more likely to be “digital natives”) might teach us new methods of translating and communicating the good news

Gary Heard
Chair, Learning and Teaching Committee
University of Divinity

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