Monday, October 20, 2014

Testing as a Silo/Solo Act: We Can Do So Much Better

A Chance of Crows (Reilly, 2011)
I. Life in the Silo

In the United States, we test each child ages 8 and higher as if he or she lived in a silo. And we say that the results of these siloed experiments will let us know if the child is career-ready, college-ready. 

Really? 

We seem to think that ideas are located in single minds, not in what gets made between and among people. Knowledge is composed among and between people.  James Gee (2008) expresses this well when he writes:
Our knowledge is not something sitting passively in our heads (although this is the common view of knowledge); rather what is in our heads is just one aspect of larger more public and historical coordinations that in reality constitute 'our' knowledge (p.220).
Yet, we insist on testing each child, separating him and her from all resources--human and technological, while thinking this process will yield an apt expression of the child's intellectual capacities in school-based reading, writing, and mathematics.  We posit knowledge as that which gets retrieved from our head through some prompting, such as test passages.

Could we be more wrong?


II. Crowd Sourcing Ebola Care

Last week, I received the email below from the National Science Foundation:


The call-out to researchers to submit proposals via the NSF's RAPID proposal process speaks to the idea of leveraging the many to address matters of urgency. This got me thinking about the use of crowdsourcing and video games to help solve world health problem. From serious games like Foldit to Nanocrafter, gamers are playing together in order to solve medical issues.

The Guardian reported:

In 2011, people playing Foldit, an online puzzle game about protein folding, resolved the structure of an enzyme that causes an Aids-like disease in monkeys. Researchers had been working on the problem for 13 years. The gamers solved it in three weeks.

My purpose in mentioning these games is not to promote them as much as it is to highlight that collaborative play is at the center of solving real word problems. Knowledge is made across players.  And yet we refuse to emulate this understanding of knowledge making at school and in fact spend billions of dollars annually to test children as if the possibility for collaboration in their adult learning and work was at best a ruse. 

Our myopic attention to testing children individually renders them less college and career ready. Our methods are antiquated. Our attention on the individual is at best, romantic. In 2014, we isolate each child and remove the full power of connectivity even as we make the child sit at a computer/tablet in order to read/view the test and record his/her answers. 

Could we be anymore 19th century like?




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