I’m still sorting through the complexity theory readings for this week, but one of them made me think of something else.  It’s now time for one of my $64,000 questions.  How does/should assessment work in a decentralized/networked learning environment?

When I read Developing Online From Simplicity toward Complexity: Going with the Flow of Non-Linear Learning , I liked the openness of the course structure, but immediately wondered student learning was assessed.  Lisa Lane also writes about being graded/marked in CCK08.

The problem is this. Educators don’t just enable learning, they also serve as gatekeepers.  Whether or not they like it, or think they ought to, much of the rest of the world uses the marks/grades and degrees that educators generate as a measure of a given person’s skills. It seems to me that one undermines networked learning to some degree if, after allowing the learning to be decentralized and learner directed, the assessment of that learning is still centralized and instructor directed.

So how would one do networked assessment?  There’s always peer review, but many are wary of it because

  • Only some students can be counted on to be dispassionate and fair in their peer assessments (how do we ensure Alice and Bob don’t grade each other poorly because they had a personal spat the weekend before peer evaluations are due?)
  • Particularly early in a learning process, students may not understand the evaluation criteria or the course material well enough to peer assess effectively.

Is there some other way to do networked assessment, or does the nature of grading make it inherently an authoritarian exercise?

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