Archive for May, 2011

Assessment Specialist Job Application

May 29, 2011

I am applying for the Assessment Specialist position at Peer to Peer University (P2PU) because it looks like a next logical place for me to continue hacking education. Logical because I’ve been exploring peer learning facilitated by the Internet for 15 years. With the addition of assessment tools P2PU appears to be well poised as a ‘disruptive innovation‘ that can credential learning that is already happening.

I believe I fit their profile for the position:

I have been hacking education since 1984 (See CV (pdf), Papers 2-19 ). Initially I developed software simulations for teaching, and in 1986 co-founded the BioQUEST consortium with a manifesto about how real learning happens in the sciences. I think that same approach applies to learning about programming — one needs to start with a real problem, solve it, and then communicate the utility of the solution.

In the 90’s I explored the web and how it might be used for collaboration. With collaborators I explored an online science fair (CV, Online Educational Events section) and the creation and administration of a virtual school to connect pre-service K-12 teachers with children in classrooms (CV, Abstracts 15-20 & 22-23 & 25). In conjunction with my teaching assignment at the time I also explored automated assessment of student writing (CV, Abstracts 21 and 24).

In the first decade of this century my focus shifted from K-12 to higher education. As Assistant Director of Washington State University’s Center for Teaching Learning and Technology (CTLT), I led explorations of the online learning management system (LMS) the University was creating and collaborated on pilots to move away from the monolithic LMS toward personal learning environments (CV, Articles 26-28 and Abstracts 26,27 and blog posts). Toward the end of my time at WSU our focus shifted to assessment and methods for gathering authentic assessment from stakeholders (CV, Article 29). Much of our latter work on these topics was blogged here and here rather than published in traditional media. We explored creating portfolios using Microsoft SharePoint, which expanded my 1988 BioQUEST thinking about solving problems to include the social learning aspects of working in public. By mid-2008 we were exploring mashing up assessment tools in SharePoint and other platforms, in a concept we called the Harvesting Gradebook. By the end of the decade the organization’s name and mission were refocused on developing a university-wide system assessment of assessment. What we implemented for the University’s 2009 Accreditation Report is described here, and our vision for the full concept, from Harvesting Gradebook to University Accreditation is here.

I bring experience mashing up assessment of both 21st century skills and technical skills into the authentic public contexts where learning is happening. Our work on WSU’s system of accreditation required that we help programs capture evidence of student learning acceptable to their stakeholders, including professional accrediting bodies. Professional accreditation, for example ABET for Engineering, include a set of “soft” professional skills along with “hard” domain knowledge skills. We developed tools and assessment procedures to help programs document student learning in both these skill sets.

In addition to the work experiences above, further evidence of my interest in hacking education can be found in my commitment to launch a public charter school (Palouse Prairie School). For years CTLT worked with faculty, advocating contextualized learning activities with authentic assessment. Individual faculty would buy in and succeed with the idea. But circumstances always intervened preventing the innovations from becoming established. Mostly these circumstances were systemic, the University’s tenure and promotion criteria, changes in leadership, lack of program-wide adoption of the ideas, resistance by students to something new. We also tried working directly with students, advocating electronic portfolios as places they could work on learning activities and showcase (for purposes of assessment) both their process and product. But students were trapped in the same context as faculty, a system with a reward structure not aligned with our vision of learning.

Palouse Prairie School was intended from the start to be a systemic effort at an alternative. The school uses the Expeditionary Learning model, derived from the ideas guiding Outward Bound.  The model is exemplified by project-based “Learning Expeditions,” where students engage in interdisciplinary, in-depth study of compelling topics, in groups and in their community, with assessment coming through cumulative products, public presentations, and portfolios. The school has just completed its second year, growing and still developing its implementation of the EL model. I serve on the Board, but without a teaching credential, have no other formal role in the school.

I can bring a working and pragmatic knowledge of assessment practices to P2PU, focused on gathering practical evidence and applying it to direct change. In my mind, small scale, quick, and sufficiently useful assessment beats ponderous activities that do not deliver timely results to learners or stakeholders, or in ways framed to their needs.

In my last year at WSU we began envisioning the radar graphs created by the Harvesting Gradebook as a sort of badge — both evidence of participation and as a way to asserting levels of competence in a multidimensional assessment. We came to understand that if our tools were re-implemented as widgets that could be embedded by learners in pages, communities could develop around pages. Google search could assist this, in much the same way that searches can be filtered for Creative Commons license, we imagined them being filtered for pages with Harvesting Gradebook badges, and even badges demonstrating a certain level of competency. That work came to an end with the University’s reorganization of the unit and departure of key personnel.

I have some knowledge of game mechanics. Since the 90’s I’ve dabbled in learning analytics and have some sense of the utility and limitations of primary trait methods vs. more holistic approaches.

I have worked as a programmer since the 90’s but for the last 10 years have been the technical manager for a teams that maintained and developed large scale web-based applications, including the online survey tool that WSU used to implement the Harvesting Gradebook. I have sufficient background in coding and web development to establish credibility with a development team and collaborate to create functional designs and lead implementation of assessment in the P2PU platform. In fact, I believe that I could facilitate pieces of this work being done in SoW courses by teams of students.

I have strong independent project management skills, working on grants and other projects since the middle 80’s.

I am able to travel for conferences, meet-ups and presentations, but will need to renew my passport, which has lapsed.