Friday, June 27, 2014

Transformational Assessment: The Mt. Everest Scenario- Set Up in a Virtual Environment

As was indicated in the last post, certain parameters need to be set up to fit the brick and mortar environment. What  I suggested to you is that it could be done effectively with some co-ordination. However, it still does not provide the full opportunities that are available to students who work completely online.

In an earlier post, I described  how a historical event such as the Manhattan Project could be used by constructing a real world scenario in which students would collaborate to solve the proposed problem. What is different from the brick and mortar scenario is that students are able to use elements of gamefication to deal collaboratively in solving the proposed problem and coming up with viable solutions. The students would take on the personas of historical figures and through the use of avatars collaborate together in a virtual scene which in that scenario was the Los Alamos laboratory of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Credit: Cooldesign

In this new scenario dealing with Mt. Everest, the same elements can be used. The procedure described in the brick and mortar scenario would still be used in the online scenario with the difference that the experience would be more immersive. The computer simulation to test the usefulness of the solution the students propose can now involve more elaborate graphics and the educator who is observing can introduce variables into the assessment to test how well students adapt to changing conditions. The areas of assessment of learning and ultimately assessment for learning have a wider range of opportunities due to the totally online conditions of the assessment.

Variables that can be introduced are such ideas as:
  • A local environmental group opposes any further exploitation of the sensitive Mt. Everest environment and are giving your group just one hour (simulation time) to present arguments to them that all reasonable precautions have been put in place to protect the environment.
  • An ice-fall on the south route to the summit has made it too treacherous to take that route, come up with a solution for use of the north face route.
  •  live weather telemetry update system has failed. Come up with another solution to determine current weather conditions.
Keep in mind that a digital countdown clock letting students know how much time is left to simulation and test end appears on there screen. The role of one of the team members is to keep a digital journal of their day to day activities.

If a student group reaches the summit alive and breathing, their solution is deemed a success and they then gain entrance to a completely new and novel scenario where they must apply what they have learned to come up with a solution. The example that I suggested in the last post is a scenario in which they are presented with the task of mounting an expedition to climb Olympus Mons on the planet Mars. If their proposed solution does not work, they are directed back as a team to diagnose the problems and come up with a counter solution within the allotted test time. Remember that in this test or assessment that there are only 2 questions.


This scenario has what I call a "loop-back" that leads to real world challenges in which students may continue to make relevant contributions to the challenges in our societies. The assessment for learning opportunities are as described in the previous post. Real world recognition for the creation of new solutions to real world problems now and in the future is the way forward to sustained and deeper learning that will help nurture a culture of innovation.

Next post, a discussion of a major growth area in curriculum innovation---the design and composing of irresistibly engaging real world style scenarios for integration into global curriculums.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Transformational Assessment: The Mt. Everest Scenario Set Up-Brick and Mortar School--Part II

At the end of the last post, we were left with a question that asked how will students receive recognition for their solutions of real world problems or issues that results in meaningful feedback that speaks to assessment for learning. In other words the assessment leads to real growth along the students chosen path of learning. Keep in mind that one of the perennial complaints that students make is that what they are being asked to do doesn't have anything to do with the "real world". In other words, recognition of what they have done is restricted to the classroom, school and perhaps even the local or national media for a very short period in time. In other words, in a majority of cases what they create has no impact on the world outside of school. In fairness to educators, there are many who go above and beyond to make sure that their students gain outside recognition but they do not represent the majority.

What is needed is a means in which students receive real world recognition for real world proposals and solutions. Recognition needs to be meaningful and come from sources that are recognized by the students as real authorities in the disciplines they are making use of. To that end I would like to suggest to you something I call "dynamic rubrics".

Credit: Hakaider (
In the case of the use of rubrics in the past, they were used as tools for measurement of learning. they are what I would call "static rubrics" in that at the end of a learning experience, a rubric was used by the educator which would include comments as to strengths and weaknesses that were observed based on the rubric and then it ended there.

In the concept of "dynamic rubrics" I am suggesting that where the static rubric ends is really just a middle stage in that a dynamic rubric can include assessment for learning. This can happen by changing how the student is assessed and by whom.
If we are to emphasize the merit of cross discipline learning, then in the assessment of learning and assessment for learning we must reflect this point of view.

Credit: Hakaider(Electric

In the example of Mt. Everest, there are two main areas that we want to assess:
  • Online Collaborative Skills
  • Critical Thinking Skills
The rubrics for these two areas can be assessed by the educators with one essential difference. Since we are dealing with a problem that focuses on drawing from the disciplines that impact climbing, it would be a good idea to have a member of a discipline as part of the assessment team to offer comment on the merit of the students' solution. For example, a mountain climber could give his or her assessment of the student solution or it could be a human biologist giving the perspective of people dealing with human physiology or it could be the physicist commenting on the physics and mathematics perspective. These are people who represent the disciplines that have some impact on the solution to the problem.

Now, the obvious question is why should they offer to help in such a task? the answer is that the disciplines have a vested interest in such a process because what they are looking at are the seeds of their own prospective evolution. Upon gathering the input on the students' solution, it is time to take this a step further. The internet has many professional communities that are vibrant with good discussion. Have one of the professionals involved in the assessment sponsor the students' solution in their online community, give visitor status to the students so that they can answer questions about their solution. Within this there is the potential for growth in learning on both sides of the fence.
 The students see real world recognition for what they are proposing and the professionals see what could be in their future. The caveat here is that this is not something we could do right away in every instance. This involves a process of growth.

Next post deals with the total online experience and the amazing potential for such problems in this venue.......

Monday, June 16, 2014

Transformative Assessment: The Mt. Everest Scenario Set Up--Brick and Mortar School--Part I

In the last post I explained some of the rationale behind the idea of setting up and administering tests in which student collaboration is part of the design. The reason behind the idea of this type of paradigm shift is that in order for our students to become change agents and creators of new knowledge and skills, teachers have to play a new role as activators and mentors. Seamlessly incorporating this idea into our education systems will help develop a generation of innovative young people and nurture a culture of innovation which will bring about solutions to many real world problems and issues.

Credit: DigitalArt

The Mount Everest scenario that I posed as a potential test question would not qualify technically as the real world issue or problem that we want students to work collaboratively to come up with solutions for. It is provided here as a simple example to show how a test based on collaboration among students might be structured.

Taking look at how this may be setup, we have to look at two different scenes:

  1. Set up in a brick and mortar school, and
  2. Set up in a a totally online education scene

Credit: Goram Hoglund (Kartlasarn)

A/ Brick and Mortar School:

Introduction: It is assumed that before this type of assessment has been introduced that the curriculum that is in place is one that emphasizes cross disciplinary learning. What this means is that the method of compartmentalizing subjects has been replaced by with a curriculum that focuses on subject groupings according to what may be described as a symbiotic relationship that has been identified among subjects. For example, grouping Science, Mathematics and perhaps Geography might be one such grouping due to the complementary skill sets that are identified among them. The primary focus of such a grouping would be to create learning experiences that draw upon the concepts and skill sets that speak to the the solution of real world issues and problems. Another such subject grouping might be History, English and Logic. Cross discipline learning is the emphasis here.

Student Tools: For the test, students will need to have use of the following technology:

  • Ipads or some other computer tablet (ie: Android based), or laptop depending upon the resources of the hosting school
  • Wireless access to the Internet (this should be high speed access!)
  • Use of Google Apps in order to work collaboratively. Google docs with access to Lucid Chart will be helpful
  • A unique password for students to access their test. Students would be working in collaborative groups of three BUT their partners will not be physically in the same room with them. This will negate the temptation to verbally discuss things which would disrupt the testing atmosphere.
Selection of Student Partners: The selection of student partners is to be done randomly but following some specific criteria. It is at this point that "big data" becomes most beneficial. One of the items for consideration when grouping deals with the average operating achievement level of the students. For example, we use to talk about students in categories of being good " A, B, C or D" level students. This had been determined based up on the educators seeing a pattern in the quality of individual student's work.Using big data, we can now be more precise in groupings. One thing that needs to be avoided at all costs is partnering together of students from the extremes in this continuum.

Test Directions to Students: The following points should be part of the directions to the students:

  • In this test, you will be required to work collaboratively with two other partners that have been randomly selected for you. Your partners and you will communicate over the Internet using your tablets. You will not have access to any other student groups except your own. You will need to discuss who in your group would be best to handle the mathematics needed to solve the problem; who would be best suited to look after the human biological aspects for the solution and so on. One member must serve as group leader or mentor.
  • During the test, you and your partners will have access to the resources of the Internet and Google Apps. Also, you need to gain access to real world weather telemetry for the Himilayas which can be found on the Internet which can have a dramatic effect on your solution process.
  • This test is made up of a primary collaborative scenario and a secondary collaborative scenario( in other words, there are only 2 problems in this test.). In this test, the primary collaborative scenario deals with when and how a teams should climb Mount Everest. You and your partners are the ones who prepare the plan for the team and give the GO signal.

Credit: Kristin


  • Your solution must explain the following: (a) How did you use mathematics in coming up with your solution? You must provide the mathematical reasoning in your solution complete with your calculations that provide a mathematical point of view of choosing the right route up Everest? (b) How did you use the sciences of human Biology, Meteorology and Physics to provide a physical and natural science point of view needed in order to provide a more informed view of the problem of ascending Mount Everest?
  • Your test is a timed test and the time will always be visible in digital form on your problem screen. It will let you know how much time remains until test end.
  • When you think you have an effective solution complete with appropriate calculations, your solution will be inputted into a computer simulation of the climb and the simulation run so that you can see it on your screen. If all climbers make it to the summit, your solution will be deemed a success. If they do not survive, then you and your team members must go back examine your proposed solution and analyze what went wrong and come up with a creative solution by collaboration. Always keep in mind your time constraints.
  • You will then be taken to Scenario #2, which will be completely unfamiliar to you and you will then need to apply what you have learned in the previous scenario to the new real world problem. For example, you might need to come up with a solution for ascending Olympus Mons on Mars for NASA.
Next posting: Applying Transformative Assessment  to obtain real world recognition for students solutions in the brick and mortar school scenario.....

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Challenge of Change Management: Students As Agents of Change-Part II

In the last post I suggested that perhaps we need to change the focus on how and why we assess students if students are going to be able to take on their new role as change agents. In order to accomplish this I suggested that if we intend to design courses that nurture students as creators of new knowledge and skills that are in synch with a developing culture of innovation, we need to go all the way and design assessment that reflects this new reality.

One of the weaknesses of our present assessment of students is that it focuses on how well students can replicate knowledge and concepts based upon what they have taken in their courses. For students who know how to "do school well", it demonstrates that they know what we want to hear and can reproduce it on demand but does it demonstrate thoughtful engagement with the subject area or is it simply a mental "cut and paste"?

Students need to be engaged in learning activities that focus on real world issue and problems. The focus is not what they know but whether or not they know how to use what they know when it comes to the need to solve real world issues. Can they evaluate information they find on the Internet and determine what is relevant to the problem or issue and what is not? Can they collaborate with another student or students and pool their talents and skills to solve an issue and then apply what they have learned from the experience to a novel and unfamiliar issue or problem?

Last post I posed this question:

 " Is it wrong for students to collaborate in a testing situation?"

Under the old model in which areas of study were compartmentalized into specific subjects, separate testing was done on a regular basis in each subject area. In a new model where subjects are grouped and the focus is on solving real world issues or problems collaboratively, the way we assess students will change. The following example will illustrate what I mean:

Question: " Is today a good day for a team of climbers to climb Mt. Everest?"

Credit: Manish Kumar

 In order for students to answer such a question, what skills are required from what disciplines to come up with a solution? For example in what ways would we need Mathematics, Physics, Geography, Biology, Meteorology, Linguistics to come up with an accurate and complete picture of the problem? Would any single discipline be enough to make a decision?

Assessment Targets:  If students were paired up in a testing situation and were required to work collaboratively to come up with a solution, what would we assess? I think the following might be given consideration and these are not in the formal language of assessment but can be taken as ideas and put in the lexicon of assessment.
  • collection and synthesis of information as it applies to the problem
  • analysis of the problem
  • ability to identify and coordinate skills of team members to reveal a clearer picture of the problem
  • ability to modify proposed solutions to meet the introduction of new variables (ie: real time weather telemetry)
  • ability to work under pressure involving time constraints.
  • ability to apply what is learned to a novel problem introduced on completion of the primary problem.
Testing Student Solutions: Student solutions could be tested and feedback given to the students by inserting the information into a graphically enhanced computer simulation on the problem and running the simulation. The feed back would then be given back to the students. If the solution resulted in the climbing team members being killed, then students would be required to go back and come up with a new solution.

You are probably asking how would such a testing situation be set up so as to be effective? How would you set up collaborative teams? What technology would they be able to use during the test? Who would be involved in the assessment of the students work on the test? What would be the criteria?

In my next post I will suggest how to set this up and how different scenarios focusing on real world issues could be substituted for this very simple example dealing with Mt. Everest......

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Challenge of Change Management: Students As Agents of Change--Part I

You may have noticed that this blog has a strange name and maybe even a sinister one,"DarkZone Education". However, the reasoning for this name is explained in my very first post to this blog. It derives from an uneasy impression that nothing is going to change for students and their education. Rather than taking a serious look at the trend of students disengaging with their education, we choose to blame teachers, blame parents, blame administrators rather than looking at the model and vision of education more closely and realizing that the problem lies here. The vision and model of education that we subscribe to dictates how everything under it is to be done at every level of the education systems from the government ministries of education down to the students. Take notice that the students are at the bottom of this continuum. They are the ones who have the greatest stake in their education but they are at the bottom when it comes to their voice. In order for students to become change agents in education we need to make changes in the methods we use to educate them, the role that they play in the process and how we assess their progress.

In regards to assessment, I have a question for you:

" Is it wrong for students to collaborate in a testing situation?"

Right now, there will be educators who are reading this who have just started to hyperventilate. The mantra that they have been taught throughout their training under the model of education that we presently labour under is that allowing students to collaborate in a test situation is cheating and should be severely punished. 
Now, with the emergence of mobile devices and social media, we are devoting all our efforts to banning their use in a testing situation so that answers can't be passed around. If we can teach students to use mobile devices to enrich their learning in day to day work, why don't we follow through when it comes to how we assess them?

 However, I would submit to you that the problem really isn't the mobile devices and the easy access to social media but more importantly, it is our methods of assessment that are really the problem because they are still based on an industrial model of education that recognizes compartmentalized knowledge in the form of separate distinct subjects rather than the actual way we think when we are called upon to solve a real world issue or problem.

I am going to introduce a new idea for assessment that takes advantage of the technology to assess students in regards to the needs of a 21st century culture that is undergoing a metamorphosis as the result of the interaction among three factors: technology, pedagogy and change management. The term that I will use is: Transformational Assessment.
In my next posting, I will describe it and provide a concrete example of how it would work in an assessment situation....

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Challenge of Change Management: Teachers As Agents of Change-Part II


Teachers in today's school systems around the world do magnificent things with students everyday and they do these things under the constant scrutiny of the public, politicians and newspaper columnists and still are criticized for not doing enough or not performing to the standards set forth by governments. Part of the problem is that teachers labour under a system and model of education that is deeply flawed. The public sees the great changes that are taking place in all areas of human endeavour which are becoming saturated with technology and then look at the school system and wonder if their students will be sufficiently prepared for a future that is so unlike the past and the present. Cynicism brings many back to questions such as: Is there something wrong with our teachers? Is there something wrong with the curriculum?
The students who are deeply into the technologies that they have access to in the outside world and which are intimate parts of their everyday life then look at school and ask what does this have to do with my personal world. They are becoming more and more disconnected and disinterested in their education. Who is at fault?

The teachers and the students are NOT at fault. The fault lies with the vision of education which is becoming more and more at odds with the transition from a post information world to a world built on a culture of innovation and advancement. Crucial to this is the changing role of the teacher. Consider the following points:
  1. Under the old model, the teacher was considered the ultimate source of information for students. Now students have access to more information through the Internet than a teacher could possibly teach them in several life-times. The old way of testing by the simple repeating of information that the teacher taught is not a reasonable approach whether it is in a brick and mortar school or an online school. Cutting and pasting information from the Internet in response to an assignment requires very little engagement with the subject area. In other words, its a no brainer!
  2. Under a new model where the teacher is a change agent, the goal is to establish "thoughtful engagement" with the subject matter. The emphasis stresses the higher levels of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy where it is not what you know that is as important as what you can do with what you know when confronted by a real world problem or issue. The teacher's new role is to guide students in the art of how to learn to deal with the overwhelming information that is available, even in a given discipline alone.
  3. Under the old model, knowledge was compartmentalized into subject areas. Under a new model, perhaps it is time to integrate subjects much in the same way as the S.T.E.M.(Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum attempts to do. Why? It recognizes that when we attempt to solve issues or problems, we in fact use skills that cross subject areas.
  4. Under a new model which involves the integration of subjects that have complementary skill sets, the implication for assessment strategies are fascinating. Instead of administering a test or exam in each individual subject, we can have integrated tests that replicate problem solving that is more realistic.
In the next post, I will suggest that students themselves can contribute in real and relevant ways as change agents in our society...

The Challenge of Change Management: Throwing Down the Gauntlet to Thought Leaders

I am throwing down the gauntlet to Bill & Melinda Gates(Gates Foundation), Sir Richard Branson(Virgin) and George Lucas (Edutopia, Lucas Foundation) and Michael Fullan(Canada) as some of the most important thought leaders in the area of innovation and education. Forgive me if I left your name out as I am not as well traveled as others.

When I survey all of the different education and innovation initiatives going on in the world, I can't help but think that we are all creating little niches in the enterprise of revolutionizing global education but what is it that binds us all together? What is the great unifying force that is driving us to reconcile the tsunami like forces of technological advancement, pedagogy, and change knowledge that is impacting on education across the globe? Is it possible that we might be working at cross purposes to an ultimate goal of delivering a rich, inspiring, challenging education to students who may be the chief innovators of a new culture of innovation in the near future?

Credit: CLUC

What is missing is a unified vision of global education that will harness all of our efforts. Just as in science fiction a vision of terraforming distant worlds to enable them to support human life has excited the imaginations of scientists and people in general, changing the landscape of education on a global scale requires leaders with a vision and courage to touch the future.

So what is the challenge? What is needed is a global summit on the "terraforming" of education that focuses on achieving, in real terms, a culture of innovation. Representatives of the major stakeholders need to be there. The majority stockholders who have the most at stake are students. Their voice must be heard and valued. Thought leaders such as Bill & Melinda Gates, Sir Richard Branson and George Lucas need to be there to listen to the thoughts, dreams and aspirations of the majority stockholders, young people. I challenge them to give as much attention and perhaps more to these voices as they do to those who are the heads of governments and industry. This is but a small step to break away from a model of education,the Industrial model, that may have served its purpose in its time but is now irrelevant and counter productive to what is developing quickly and is already on the horizon.

I want to be very clear that I am in no way suggesting that the excellent national and regional conferences that are already very much part of the educational life of many countries are not important. They are valuable and contribute much to ongoing developments in education. I am saying that in many societies, development in education is hindered by a systemic cynicism that passes on the attitude to students that there really is nothing in their future that they can aspire to that is greater than themselves.

Back to you, Bill, Melinda, Richard, George and Michael!

My next posting will continue to deal with how teachers in the new role as change agents can inspire a new generation of learners and can bring hope to learners of the present.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Challenge of Change Management: Teachers As Agents of Change-Part I

I hate to use cliches but permit me just this one! The "elephant in the room" is change management. No matter how well we design innovative courses that are irresistibly engaging to students and how effectively we use sound pedagogy that is in synch with the new technologies, it is all for naught if we can not explain how these things can be implemented effectively. I think that the first point to remember is what is at stake. Remember the following graphic?

Although this graphic is somewhat dated, the model behind it is still the model that the school systems are operating under. The industrial model of education has had far reaching effects on education as a whole from dictating how teachers should be trained in education faculties to how students should be assessed. From the point of view of this model, the purpose of education is to train students to be efficient workers and life-long consumers. In the time when it was created, it served societies well because the wealth of nations were dependent upon this model. However, the needs of the world have changed and now this model is at odds with what is in the best interests of our societies. The technological age and the post information age have given education a new purpose. That purpose is to be a force of change in our societies and students are to be the creators of new knowledge and skills that will build a culture of great innovation.

Change is not optional but is in fact essential to the 21st century. It will contribute not only to a purposeful, engaging and sustained deeper learning for students but will also contribute to the wealth of nations as students become the new architects of the future we will all live in. In order for them to accomplish such change, they need teachers who are willing to become explorers, innovators and mentors who will guide them in the process of learning to learn in a brand new context. Teachers are instrumental as change agents.

One of the current problems with technology and students has actually two parts:
  1. The digital world of students, based upon current research, is largely outside schools, and
  2. It is essentially undisciplined--all over the multi-tasking map( Stratosphere-Michael Fullan-2013)
Item #2 above is the reason that teachers as change agents are so crucial to the development of this new purpose of education. However, what have I really told you? I have explained the need is there and the time is ripe. What I haven't told you is how the work life of teachers in this new vision is going to be much better, more rewarding in many ways and will produce a chain reaction that will lead to positive benefits for all of our societies. That will be the focus of my next posting....