Designing Learning Environments & Considering Assessment

This week’s readings begin with a return to How People Learn. This time, the portion that we’re focusing on covers some of the complexity behind designing an effective learning environment. The text walked us through the characteristics of learner-centered, knowledge-centered and assessment-centered environments for learning, and how these approaches certainly aren’t mutually exclusive, and in fact might overlap.

Like many times in SI (and life), there’s a Venn diagram that helps make things a little more understandable:

FIGURE 6.1 Perspectives on learning environments. SOURCE: Bransford et al.

I’d already done a little bit of reading/talking about each of these ideas, but one additional thing that I thought the chapter did a good job with was guiding me to think about the community context within which all of this would be taking place. Since my background has entailed work with/in various different communities, I’ve been aware of how various cultural norms, etc. might impact learning, but might not have seen those factors as a sort of valence over all of these intersecting approaches, had the reading not been specific in spelling that out.

I appreciated a chance to think about formative assessment again, and realized that formative assessment is pretty much exactly what’s happening in this class as we write these blogs and work through our ideas. It might seem no-duh to the outsider, but the fact that we are not only blogging our reflections, but giving each other feedback on our ideas & writing (and in the process, learning how to better evaluate and give feedback to others) is no doubt a type of formative assessment that’ll take place throughout the semester. It’s another type of learning-in-public.

As Sadler mentions in our other reading, “Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems,” in order for “students to be able to improve, they must develop the capacity to monitor the quality of their own work during actual production.” The feedback that I have gotten (even in just a few weeks of this blog’s existence) from friends and classmates has already helped me to understand where I can improve and to correct my course as I’m writing and editing. I think that it may even help me tweak the note-taking I do in preparation for writing.

The How People Learn chapter specifically says that it’s not going to address the issue of standardized summative assessment beyond the classroom level, but I found that a little frustrating.  If we agree with the authors — that the actual goals/expectations related to education have changed drastically and that factory-like-schools don’t align with current goals/desired outcomes… and if we recognize that the community or culture impacts student learning, then there is a HUGE potential disconnect between what results we want and what is actually incentivized by standardized tests.  This is its own issue of a failure in alignment (a term the authors are fond of using) which seems to be a glaring, large issue that needs to be addressed.


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