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E. None of the Above

February 26, 2010


Above is a picture of a project completed by one of our recent alumni for a design class at Iowa State University.  He calls it a “pop up passageway.”  This is a student who is in his second semester of college.  Seeing this image I was immediately impressed with the clear talent of one of our graduates.   I began to wonder…what helped him build the skills that allowed him to create something like this.  Was it:

A. multiple choice tests

B. worksheets

C. tedious, repetitive busywork

or D. memorizing names, dates, or facts

The answer, of course, is E. None of the Above.

This student has a clear ability and passion to create.  He spent a lot of time in art classes developing and honing these skills.  My question is….did we give him opportunities to do this in other classes as well?  Many students have a passion to create, to build, to make something that was not there before and show it to others.  There is a sense of accomplishment in this type of task.  Obviously this young man felt this sense of accomplishment as he proudly shared this picture on Twitter.

If authentic, relevant, project based assessment is good enough for a college course (and the rest of our adult lives as well by the way),  why are we so resistant to utilize it in core courses?  I have often said that in real life I have rarely seen jobs gained or lost by performance on a multiple choice test.  I know a local contractor who installs stone flooring.  I once asked him if in the bidding process he ever demonstrated his company’s skill by showing potential clients their performance on a standardized test of flooring installation.  He chuckled.

I think this picture also calls into question one of our most common refrains when challenged to increase our use of authentic assessment in K-12 education.  That is the claim that “it doesn’t prepare them for the way they are tested in college.”  This is a freshman student in a course with large enrollment in one of the largest universities in the state.  It seems they are finding ways to use authentic assessment…maybe, just maybe, we should too.

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