“When the student is ready, the master will appear.”
I hate it when I come across a book, buy it, and then have it get lost in my other Amazon Kindle book purchases. Such was the case with Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. I bought the book in August, but did not find it again until starting a collaboration on innovating on the future of the university with colleagues from the University of Washington Bothell.
I really wish I had read it before starting my Human Centered Design course at UW Seattle. I made a lot of changes in the course this year (as an example see the use of MBTI to form teams) that dramatically improved the student’s class projects compared to previous years. However, as the course went along, I realized I changed a lot in the syllabus but I didn’t fundamentally change the assessment process. I was excited and relieved to see a whole chapter in Davidson’s book about the way assessment needs to change when we reinvent and reinvigorate learning and teaching in the Internet Age.
The following are several highlights from the text that are helping me to rethink the role of assessment in a graduate school project based course:
“By the end of This Is Your Brain on the Internet, I felt confident I’d taught a pretty impressive course. I settled in with my students’ course evaluations, waiting for the accolades to flow over me, a pedagogical shower of student appreciation. And mostly that’s what I read, thankfully. But there was one group of students who had some candid feedback to offer me for the next time I taught This Is Your Brain on the Internet, and it took me by surprise. They said everything about the course had been bold, new, and exciting.”
“Everything, that is, except grading.”
“They pointed out that I had used entirely conventional methods for testing and evaluating their work. We had talked as a class about the new modes of assessment on the Internet—everything from public commenting on products and services to leader boards—where the consumer of content could also evaluate that content. These students said they loved the class but were perplexed that my assessment method had been so twentieth-century. Midterm. Final. Research paper. Graded A, B, C, D. The students were right. You couldn’t get more twentieth-century than that. It’s hard for students to critique a teacher, especially one they like, but they not only did so, they signed their names to the course evaluations. It turned out these were A+ students, not B students. That stopped me in my tracks. If you’re a teacher worth your salt, you really pay attention when the A+ students say something is wrong.”
“Assessment is a bit like the famous Heisenberg principle in quantum mechanics: the more precisely you measure for one property, the less precisely you can measure for another.”
“Grading measures some things and fails to measure other things, but in the end, all assessment is circular: It measures what you want it to measure by a standard of excellence that you determine in advance.”
“Grading, in a curious way, exemplifies our deepest convictions about excellence and authority, and specifically about the right of those with authority to define what constitutes excellence.”
“Once we figure out how to teach collaboration, how do we measure it? Kids shouldn’t have to end up at their first job with a perfect report card and stellar test scores but no experience in working with others. When you fail at that in your first job, you don’t get a C. You get a pink slip and a fast walk to the exit door.”
The above are just a few of 261 highlighted passages and 19 notes I made while reading the book. Along with the work I did with Russ Ackoff in the 1980s on the Idealized Design of the University, Cathy Davidson’s research work will be instrumental in inspiring us to innovate for the university of the future.
In addition to her book, Now You See It, several other Cathy Davidson resources are available on the web:
- The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (free if you download to a Kindle)
- “Digital Relearning” – Introductory Video
- Hastac Research Group
- Now You See It Blog – Cathy Davidson
When you read her book, it becomes clear that not only is Cathy a prolific social media writer (see her pointers for following on the top of her blog page).