Assessment as a Means for Developing a Sense of Achievement
They replaced the old spin bikes with some new ones at the health club where I work out. These new ones have a feedback monitor that provides feedback about effort via the RPM, watts, and gear level, The spin instructor told us that the recommended watts for a good workout is over 200. I started my workout as I always do, putting out my typical amount of effort. The watts indicator hovered between 100 and 125. Yikes! I have gone to two workouts using this monitor. I have reached, huffing and puffing, 200 watts on a few occasions, and attempt to keep it at around 150. I wasn’t able to reach 200 watts the first time and felt a great sense of achievement upon doing so during my second spin class with the monitor. Needless to say, these were some of the best spin workouts I have accomplished. I realized that the monitor made my spin performance into a type of game by me providing me with ongoing and continuous feedback and a way to level up.
I made the connection between my experiences on the spin bike and the need for humans to feel a sense of achievement.
Need for achievement (N-Ach) refers to an individual’s desire for significant accomplishment, mastering of skills, control, or high standards. The term was first used by Henry Murray and associated with a range of actions. These include: “intense, prolonged and repeated efforts to accomplish something difficult. To work with singleness of purpose towards a high and distant goal. To have the determination to win”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Need_for_achievement)
I began thinking about how all of this applies to the educational setting. I have a cynical view about assessments, most often in the form of tests, and how they are used at school. They are often contrived and separate from the learning process, and a measure of a student’s deficiencies. As such, students do not use information gleamed from the assessment process to improve their performance. As a deficiency model, rather than one that promotes a sense of achievement, students who do not achieve 100% proficiency feel as though they have failed in some way.
Assessment should be a continuous feedback loop, one that is integrated into the learning process, and where the feedback improves the competency of the learner. Assessments should be used as opportunities to develop competencies and the related sense of achievement.
Sal Khan discusses this problem of testing:
Regardless of whether they can prove proficiency in 70, 80, or 90 percent of the material, they are “passed” to the next class, which builds on 100 percent of what they should have learned. Fast-forward six months, and students are lucky to retain even 10 percent of what was “covered.”
This is a grand exercise in labeling and filtering students with arbitrary grades rather than teaching them. It is a hugely inefficient use of time and resources, but no one wants to notice, because it is the way things have always been done.
Perhaps the worst artifact of this system is that most students end up mastering nothing. What is the 5 percent that even the A student, with a 95 percent, doesn’t know? The question becomes scarier when considering the B or C student. How can they even hope to understand 100 percent of a more advanced class?
Ten years from today, students will be learning at their own pace, with all relevant data being collected on how to optimize their learning and the content itself. Grades and transcripts will be replaced with real-time reports and analytics on what a student actually knows and doesn’t know. (YouTube U. Beats YouSnooze U.)
This is why I believe that game-based learning is becoming popular and being promoted viable means for assessment.
As James Gee notes:
Games don’t separate learning and assessment. They are giving you feedback all the time about the learning curve you are on.
So what is the difference between a game or a machine giving feedback and a teacher giving a grade? How does all of this relate to intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation? Is getting feedback from a game extrinsic motivation? Does the external rewards gained through leveling up in a video game or gaining a badge by completing a series of competencies diminish the sense of accomplishment?
It may seem counter intuitive to think that children would consider harder work a reward for doing well on a homework problem, test, or physical skill to which they devoted considerable physical or mental energy. Yet, that is just what the video playing brain seeks after experiencing the pleasure of reaching a higher level in the game. A computer game doesn’t hand out cash, toys, or even hugs. The motivation to persevere is the brain seeking another surge of dopamine — the fuel of intrinsic reinforcement.
Good games give players opportunities for experiencing intrinsic reward at frequent intervals, when they apply the effort and practice the specific skills they need to get to the next level. The games do not require mastery of all tasks and the completion of the whole game before giving the brain the feedback for dopamine boosts of satisfaction.
. . . which she further notes, helps students develop competencies and the related sense of achievement.
In the classroom, the video [game] model can be achieved with timely, corrective feedback so students recognize incorrect foundational knowledge and then have opportunities to strengthen the correct new memory circuits through practice and application. However, individualized instruction, assignments, and feedback, that allow students to consistently work at their individualized achievable challenge levels, are time-consuming processes not possible for teachers to consistently provide all students.
The best on-line learning programs for building students’ missing foundational knowledge use student responses to structure learning at individualized achievable challenge levels. These programs also provide timely corrective and progress-acknowledging feedback that allows the students to correct mistakes, build understanding progressively, and recognize their incremental progress.
How can all of these ideas influence how educators provide feedback to learners and opportunities to develop competencies along with the resultant sense of achievement?