5 New Ways School Are Evaluating Student Learning

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It’s hard to believe that in 1870, only 2% of 17-year-olds in this country had a high school diploma.

Over the years that number rose and peaked at 77% exactly a century later, but on average it’s been slowly falling ever since. While of course this is troubling, there is some good news for people without high school diplomas or college degrees. New ways to evaluate students are becoming more and more mainstream, as colleges become more forward-thinking and education becomes more open. Whether they’re used in admissions or in certifying valuable skills, these are the evaluation methods of the future.

5 New Ways School Are Evaluating Student Learning

1. MOOCs

Khan Academy. edX. Udacity. Coursera. Much has been said already about the power of these providers of massive open online courses to radically change higher education. We are right on the cusp of a new era that will see colleges using completed online classes as a way to evaluate a potential student’s … potential. The University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Caltech, and 12 other schools are signed up to evaluate courses offered by Coursera. From there it’s just one small step to accepting the courses for credit, a step that will be even smaller should the American Council on Education give MOOCs its blessing. Coursera co-founder and Stanford prof Daphne Koller has no doubt what the outcome will be: “[MOOCs are] going to push more people into college and make them more successful.”

2. Badges

Is the future of education filled with badges? As one Brigham Young University professor put it, “Employers look at degrees because it’s a quick way to evaluate all 300 people who apply for a job. But as soon as there’s some other mechanism that can play that role as well as a degree, the jig is up on the monopoly of degrees.” Digital badges pose just such a mechanism. They’re like certificates, only they certify unique skills companies are looking for with a specificity that degrees and diplomas don’t. Forecasters predict a future where online schools — and even other organizations that are not strictly educational, like Microsoft, Mozilla, and the Manufacturing Institute — grant badges for civilian work, algebra, mentorship, and anything else an employer might appreciate.

3. Third-party assessors and proctored exams

A critical component of the digital badge and MOOC movements is the question of legitimacy. As with anything involving online education (or online anything, for that matter), the risk of sketchy or downright fraudulent behavior by companies posing as educational is high. That’s why groups like the American Council of Education are working to “grade the graders” and bring authenticity to badges and MOOCs. While some schools will count badges like credentials, many will still require verified demonstrations of skills through proctored exams. Some are partnering with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning to learn how best to use life skills and other non-diploma factors to evaluate students’ abilities.

4. e-Portfolios

It’s not a new innovation for students to keep collections of their completed assignments and projects from school in order to show them to admissions counselors and/or employers. What are new are the form this practice is taking and the range of schools that now require it, instead of leaving it as a suggestion to students. From high school to college to grad school, schools are capitalizing on the increasingly digital nature of schoolwork by having students assemble some of their best work from each year to demonstrate learning over time. Many require students to make these e-portfolios open to inspection by faculty throughout their stay at a school so that their progress can be monitored. The collections may include audio and video so that reviewers can see the student in action, PowerPoints, jpegs, PDFs, and any other files that are easily shared, viewed, or otherwise interacted with digitally.

5. Life experience

The recession had yet to hit home when The New York Times ran a piece on continuing education organizations offering college credits for life experience. They noted that the allure of such “prior learning credits” was two-fold: get a degree faster and cheaper. Four years later, the cost of a college education has gone from a secondary consideration to priority number one for most students, and more people are looking at prior learning credits as a partial solution to the money problem. Older adults especially, who have been working full-time for years without a bachelor’s degree, served in the military, or even done volunteer work, can turn the skills and experiences they had in those roles into real college credits. For example, in James Madison University’s Adult Degree Program, students can earn up to 25% of the credits they need to graduate through prior learning credits.

This is a cross-post from onlinedegrees.org; image attribution flickr user peteselfchoose