Friday, 1 May 2015

Education, New Technologies and the Elephant in the Examination Hall

Assess the potential for technology-enabled innovation in products/services and processes in your organisation: 
Thus ran the assignment question for the 'Innovation and Technology module' of the Executive Masters in Management course that I am studying with Ashridge Business School.

What is the potential for technology-enabled innovation in Secondary Education?
Well it's enormous - young people learning collaboratively, being creative in their learning, sharing apps, learning through gaming and so on. But hold on .. . . . . . . (and it's not me putting the breaks on here) . . . . . the potential for technology-enabled innovation in secondary education is currently limited by one significant external factor – the nature of British examination system. 
At present, new technologies are helping young people to learn better both in and out of the classroom - but then we take them away from their collaborative connected learning environment, and transport them through time back to the 1930s to make them sit an examination. No wonder there is skepticism about the value of new technologies in education when the exam system is forcing us to use them with one hand tied behind out back. 
Whilst tablet and app-based learning is beginning to transform education at KS1, KS2 and KS3, the whole process gets stuck there; and schools, understandably, get cold feet when is comes to KS4 and KS5. So long the Exam Boards (and Universities) require young people to sit formal examinations in rows, in silence, without access to technology (as a point of reference), then the nature of the schooling that takes place prior to those exams will inevitably devote significant time and energy into training them to excel in those conditions. Rather than getting the most out of the new technologies available to them, quite understandably, schools are harnessing new C21 technologies to develop C20 skills in order to sit C20 examinations. Thus it is no surprise that, when given a totally free choice of device to bring into school, 98% of Berkhamstedians from Y10 to Y13 choose a laptop. This is automation not transformation.
Online Examinations? 
Changes in examination board regulations mean that since Summer 2013 pupils who do not have a Specific Learning Difficulty who use a laptop as their "normal way of working" accrue a right to use laptops in public examinations: 
“Centres are allowed to provide a word processor with the spelling and grammar check/ predictive text disabled to a candidate where it is their normal way of working within the centre, unless an awarding body’s specification says otherwise. This also includes an electronic brailler, an iPad or a pc tablet.” JCQ General and Vocational Qualifications, Instructions for conducting examinations 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2013. Section 8.8 p.24;  (My emphasis) 
There is no inherent advantage in using laptops. The laptops have to be provided by the centre, the spell check has to be disabled and the pupils get no additional time. Parents are charged £100 for the provision of a 'clean' exam-ready laptop - this cost covers mocks and Summer exams. 
However, this is recognition by JCQ and the Exam Boards that laptops are the normal way of working for some pupils and that it would be penalising them not to allow them to sit exams using a laptop. ">It is for each school to define 'normal way of working'.
At Berkhamsted, we took the view that the pupil had to use the laptop in lessons and for homework for the length of their GCSE, AS or A2 course. As a consequence of this change, this year 13 Berkhamstedians (eight boys and five girls) have chosen to sit a proportion of their GCSEs and A-levels on a laptop under the terms of these regulations, mainly in those subjects which require extended pieces of writing such as English, History and Religious Studies. Small steps forward, but, again, this is automation not transformation.
Berkhamsted School Elective Laptop Use in Exams 2014 and 2015
Google in Exams? 
Mark Dawe, chief executive of OCR, argued that pupils should have access to the Internet when doing examinations on the basis that memorising reams of information was “not how the modern world works” (See 'Let students use websites during examinations' Times 01/05/2015). He is quite right. This is not a new debate, I recall a debate within the Cambridge Theology faculty when I was a student, as to whether or not undergraduates should be allowed to have a bible in their examinations. Access to Google is not an enormous step on from 'open book' English Literature examinations that were part of A-level English for many years. It all comes down to what we are testing here - knowledge of facts? the ability to put an argument together? or the ability to research?
Concerns about cheating in exams which have internet access are overstated. No one here is advocating that pupils be allowed to communications with others during exams. Key-stroke capture (which records what each candidate did whilst online) and plagiarism software, such as Turnitin, provide the means and method to deter and police the issues of access to the Internet.

The current examination hall reflects a time that has passed. There is little doubt that the examination system needs to change and will change. 
None of us works that way anymore. We work in teams. We work on shared documents. We work with people the other side of room - and the other side of the world. We run our diaries, take notes and communicate with other through our phones, our tablets, our laptops and our desktops. Indeed of most of the written notes we make end up on the fridge! When you last needed a fact, or a quote, or to check a spelling, did you pull an a encyclopedia, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations or the OED off the shelf? or did you Google or Wikipedia it? Social media has meant that our professional networks include people we have never met and are never likely to meet. LinkedIn is replacing business cards (at least in the West!); and we share ideas and take part in debates across continents. We work differently, and, because of that, we should teach, learn and assess differently.
So what will the school and university assessment system of the future look like? 
If the future assessment system is to prepare young people for the demands of the C21 workplace (or indeed C21 academia), it is likely that there will be greater component of teamwork and collaborative working. Dissertations, projects, videos and presentations (think Screencast rather than PowerPoint) are likely to be a greater proportion of the overall assessment. This has already happened in some areas - the Ashridge MBA programme abandoned its final examination a number of years ago and now incorporates a number of practical assessments - such as 'live case' consultancy exercises - rather than assessing totally through extended essays and exams. 
Whilst traditional Harvard-referenced Dissertations assessing the skills of critical analysis and evaluation may remain as one component in a portfolio, we are likely to see a greater range of assignments where creativity, visual literacy and 'the ability to sell an idea' are likely to be valued skills, 
The end of examinations? It is very likely that universities and employers will still want a qualification system that identifies and distills out individual performance where a least part of the assessment process is conducted against the clock, It is almost certain that these will be online and will be much more like the tests that top law and accountancy firms are using as the first round of their employment screening process. Typically these give the candidate some key texts and data which they have a specific period of time to digest, before writing a report against the clock drawing on these sources. So it is a safe bet that exams are here to stay.

Is this new assessment system really that radical? These ideas do not really represent as radical a shift in our thinking as might at first be seen. Afterall, our present examination GCSE and A-level examination system already has some of the components of C21 examination: we examine individuals on their team performance in Drama and Sport; we have open book examinations in English Lit and we pre-release material in Art to allow A-level Art candidates to research weeks in advance of their final practical exam.

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