New Assessment Methods for New Ways of Learning – OEB Session on Innovative EU Projects

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With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, such as user-created content or social networks, approaches to learning have changed radically – but methods of assessment have not. Today’s learners pick up information in online communities from their peers. They are encouraged to collaborate, share knowledge and work in teams but, rather than assessing these skills, most institutions still focus on what students memorise for traditional exams. At OEB 2010, two sessions organised by the European Commission will elaborate on more up-to-date assessment projects, giving participants the opportunity to discuss the potential of new technologies in this field.

ICT for Learning – The European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme
With a budget of nearly seven billion euros, the new Lifelong Learning Programme (2007-2013) is made up of four sectoral programmes – Comenius (schools), Erasmus (higher education), Leonardo da Vinci (vocational training), and Grundtvig (adult education) – as well as a transversal programme that focuses on policy cooperation, languages, ICT and dissemination.

The Jean Monnet Programme aims at the stimulation of teaching, reflection and debate on the European integration process at higher education institutions worldwide.

“Key Activity 3 ICT” seeks to harness the power of technology to develop innovative education and training practices, improve access to lifelong learning, and help develop advanced management systems.

Today’s learning landscape provides more options than ever – and more challenges. A lot of learning takes place in informal environments on the Internet, and more and more educational institutions adopt such strategies for their own purposes. “For example, many universities are experimenting with the use of Ning and other social technologies as a complement to formal lectures,” says Lieve van Den Brande, senior policy officer for ICT and learning at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Culture. “In addition, curricula are making increasing use of problem solving and group assignments as part of the learning process.” In short, learning and teaching has been changing dramatically.

The use of assessment methods, however, has not kept pace. A recent report of the EU Commission and the European Council entitled “Key Competences for a Changing World” came to the conclusion that “most current assessment methods have a strong emphasis on knowledge and recall and do not sufficiently capture the crucial skills and attitudes dimension of key competences. Also, the assessment of transversal key competences and the assessment in the context of cross-curricular work appear inadequate.”

Self-Assessment or Formal Testing?

But how should one assess informal learning and “transversal competences,” such as team work or knowledge sharing? “Some academics argue that learning in peer-based communities should be judged by self-assessment and assessment by peers,” Lieve van Den Brande explains. “The advantage of this approach is that it educates people to be responsible for their own learning needs.”

Other experts, however, say that these types of assessment would not work in institutional settings, such as schools and universities, where external certifications of learning according to predefined quality criteria are required.

Whilst the EU report recommends that complementary assessment methodologies such as portfolios, peer assessments or project work should be developed further, Lieve van Den Brande concludes pragmatically: “What is needed is probably a balance between the two”.

Assessing Individual Learners’ Progress Rather than Education Programmes

At ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN, van Den Brande will organise two subsequent sessions on the role ICTs can play in assessing learning progress. In this context, assessment will be defined “as the process of making judgements about individual learners’ progress and achievements, rather than on the evaluation of education programmes, school performance or systems in general”.

The sessions will present best practice examples drawn from projects of the EU’s Life Long Learning Programme and offer plenty of room for discussion. The debate will result in a set of key messages to be forwarded to policy makers, practitioners and researchers.

More information about the Commission’s Key Activities on ICT:

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