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Opting for Renewable Assessments

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An aspect of higher education that likely drives faculty and students alike to frustration is assessments–whether homework, papers, or anything else–that are designed for the instructor’s eyes only. No matter how carefully the faculty member explains that students should write for an imagined audience of interested readers, the vast majority of the time the professor will be the only person who reads the work, and then the student will briefly look over the professor’s comments . . . and then, what?

David Wiley argues for “renewable assessments”: one where “the student’s work won’t be discarded at the end of the process, but will instead add value to the world in some way.” (The contrasting type, meant to be submitted-and-forgotten, he characterizes as “disposable.”) As examples, he offers courses where students write or edit Wikipedia articles, where students design an anthology, or a a variety of other types.

Wiley asserts that by shifting toward renewable assessments, we will lend meaning to students’ educational projects:

I think the most powerful part of renewable assignments is the idea that everyone wants their work to matter. No one wants to struggle for hours or days on something they know will be thrown away almost as soon as it is finished. Given the opportunity, people want to contribute something, to give something back, to pay it forward, to make the world a better place, to make a difference.
. . .
Your results may vary, but I estimate that the 20 million postsecondary students in the US spend over 150M hours per year on disposable assessments. Every year. Year after year.

The concept of renewable assessment is not a new one–there have been lots of examples written about on ProfHacker, and I’d count Brian’s and my timeline assignments and my old wikified class notes assignment were also going in that direction.

But Wiley’s focus on the open aspects of renewable assignment struck a new chord with me: “As you look through the examples of renewable assessments above, you will see that many of them involve revising and remixing – demonstrating that renewable assessments are enabled by the 5R permissions granted by open licenses. (It’s true that a student could do a renewable assessment completely “from scratch,” but that doesn’t appear to be the way they’ve worked to date.) In other words, “open” makes possible renewable assessments that would otherwise be illegal. This is why I think renewable assessments are the best examples of open pedagogy we have now.” It’s a pretty interesting essay, one that even includes some specific recommendations for education research. Read the whole thing!

As I develop a new syllabus this month for the first time in several years, one of the things I’ll be designing for is opportunities for open, renewable assignments. How about you? Are you having your students work in open, renewable ways? Please share in comments!

Photo “biodiesel-opening-154″> by Flickr user Catawba County / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

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