Friday, May 29, 2009

figuring out "how to go on"

In his paper "Human Action and Social Groups as the Natural Home of Assessment: Thoughts on 21st Century Learning and Assessment," Jim Gee describes what at first glance appears to be two opposing uses of assessment in informal online spaces. As Gee explains,

Assessment for most social groups is both a form of mentoring and policing. These two are, however, not as opposed to each other as it might at first seem (and as they often are in school). Newcomers want to “live up to” their new identity and, since this is an identity they value, they want that identity “policed” so that it remains worth having by the time they gain it more fully. They buy into the “standards.” Surely this is how SWAT team members, scientists, and Yu-Gi-Oh fanatics feel.

At its best, assessment in formal education serves the same dual role; yet something is most assuredly different. What's different is not the degree to which students "buy into" the value of assessment; they see assessment in school as important, just as they would argue that the mentoring and policing of the online spaces they inhabit is an essential element to keeping those spaces alive.

What's different is not the degree of investment; what's different is the degree of relevance. The Yu-Gi-Oh fanatics Gee references want--sometimes desperately--to be accepted into the groups they join, and so they agree to the terms of this belonging, even if it requires being held to at times impossibly high standards of participation. The same is true of novice SWAT team members and scientists; it's less true of 11th graders reading Moby-Dick in an English classroom. To what purpose? they might ask, and they would be right to do so. Until we can align the goals, roles, and assessment practices of the formal classroom--until, that is, we can transform the domain to meet the needs of a participatory culture--investment exists without relevance. Students want A's to get into college; they want A's because that's what their parents tells them equals success; they want A's (or D's, or F's) because their friends tell them they should.

We know that practices are mediated by the tools we use to engage in those practices. We know that writing with a pencil is different from writing with a computer is different from writing with a Blackberry. The notion of "re-mediation" is intended to point to another level of mediation: That the tools that mediate traditional literacy practices get re-mediated by new media, which then re-mediates the practices that we bring to the tools. It's all very meta.

All of this is by way of introduction to re-mediating assessment, a new blog emerging out of a clever little partnership between a plucky crew of assessment-oriented researchers out of Indiana University and MIT. The plucky researchers include:

Daniel T. Hickey, Associate Professor of Learning Sciences at Indiana University, and our intrepid leader. Dan's research focuses on participatory approaches to assessment and motivation, design-based educational research, and program evaluation. He is particularly interested in how new participatory approaches can advance nagging educational debates over things like assessment formats and the use of extrinsic incentives. His work is funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the MacArthur foundation, and has mostly been conducted in the context of digital social networks and videogames. He teaches graduate courses on cognition & instruction, assessment, and motivation, and undergraduate classes on educational psychology.

Michelle Honeyford, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Literacy, Culture, and Language Education Department at Indiana University and the cool head behind this operation. Michelle is a Graduate Research Assistant on the MacArthur-funded 21st Century Assessment Project for Situated and Sociocultural Approaches to Learning, working on a participatory assessment model for new media literacies. Her broader research interests include identity, cultural citizenship, and new literacy studies. Michelle is a former middle and high school English Language Arts teacher, and has taught courses in the teaching of writing at IU.

Jenna McWilliams, the little engine that could. Jenna is a prolific blogger who is working on mastering the art of being both smart and lucky, sometimes simultaneously. She recently got picked up by the Guardian's online site, Comment is Free, and was interviewed about the future of newspapers on the BBC's News Hour program. She currently works as an educational researcher for Project New Media Literacies, a MacArthur-funded research project based at MIT; prior to that, she taught English composition, literature, and creative writing at Suffolk University, Bridgewater State College, and at Newbury College and at Colorado State University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. In Fall 2009, she will begin doctoral study in the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University, under the tutelage of Dan Hickey, who is her sensei.

Together, this merry band will start working out the simple matter of "how to go on" and how to align classroom practices with the proficiencies called for--indeed, demanded--by a participatory culture.

We're bringing the smart. Wish us luck.

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