In the 1980s, Texas faced a significant littering problem on its highways. The state officials tried fining citizens for littering but to no great avail. Then, the state launched an advertising campaign called “Don’t Mess with Texas.” This campaign utilized Texan pride as a motivator by suggesting that true Texans wouldn’t disrespect their own state by littering. Within just a few years, roadside litter decreased significantly, with some estimates suggesting a massive drop of littering behavior. The take-home message from this story is that punishment can work. A more elegant intervention may work even better.
From Bottles and Cans to Books and Exams
Translating this to the world of academia, examinations often come across as that ominous cloud hovering over students’ heads. “Study, or else!” But what if we could replace that “or else” with “because it’s fun, valuable, and rewarding”? How can we transform the drudgery of studying out of fear of failing an exam into the meaningful pursuit of self-actualization? A solution could be to move summative assessment from the end of the course to its beginning.
Imagine a student about to start the second year of their study. They sign up for courses, but to enroll in them, they first need to demonstrate they have sufficiently mastered all prior competencies the next year’s courses build on. With the help of artificial intelligence, an integrated assessment is designed that evaluates the student’s readiness to take the course. In educational jargon, this ensures the course lies within the student’s Zone of Proximal Development.
Benefits of the System
Frankly, the proposed idea is not as radical as it may seem at first glance. The biggest difference is that this new arrangement signals to students that learning is the valuable part of the study experience. Acquiring knowledge and skills is not merely a means to an end (diploma), learning is the ultimate goal of studying. In addition, having had to work to access a course and earn their place in it could increase students’ sense of accomplishment, ownership, and commitment. In a sense, the admission assessment would become a type of rite of passage. All this could potentially heighten intrinsic motivation to engage with the course because they want to, not because they have to.
A secondary benefit of this system is that it facilitates lifelong learning. Lifelong learners often face challenges when trying to commit to full programs due to time constraints. Offering smaller educational units, like individual courses or modules, can be immensely beneficial. However, one inherent risk in modularizing education is ensuring the admission of students who are truly ready. The proposed admission system addresses this challenge, creating an efficient mechanism to admit apt students and thus further support lifelong learning.
Challenges & Considerations
Risk of Exclusion: An upfront assessment may disadvantage some students, particularly those from diverse backgrounds or with unique learning challenges. However, an open-door policy for foundational courses and a robust mentorship system can address these concerns.
Certification Concerns: Removing end-of-course evaluations implies that educational institutions may find it challenging to certify a student’s overall achievement, necessitating a re-evaluation of higher education’s certification role.
Increasing student engagement is a multifaceted challenge with no one-size-fits-all solution. Influenced by factors such as pedagogical methods, peer interactions, and institutional culture, a high level of engagement of all students at all times remains an elusive ideal. Therefore, we should look for effective engagement-promoting interventions and stack them up to get as close to the ideal state as possible. One of them could be removing end-of-course assessment and replacing it with an admission-style test instead. What do you think, will this work? Whether you think this idea is a gem or garbage, I would love to hear from you.