There is no doubt that technology is changing the world of education. In chapters 4-8 of Teaching Naked (Bowen, 2012), the author takes us through the various ways that technology will impact course design, delivery of information, student engagement, assessment and ultimately how teachers use the classroom. These changes and more are already taking place, as recent literature continues to unfold and predict how technology is shaping education in increasingly short, iterative cycles. Contact North recently released a two part essay featuring their 2016 outlook on online education and highlight many of the themes predicted in Bowen’s book, but also some that were not even on the horizon yet, such as the emergence of adaptive technology and artificial intelligence into the education space (Contact North, 2016).
Colleges and universities are also moving away from standardized tests and doing more assessment of learning outcomes, with the number of colleges using standardized assessments of knowledge to benchmark student achievement dropping to 38% compared to nearly 50% in 2008 (AACU, 2016). While this is happening, we still rely almost exclusively on high stakes- must pass multiple choice written examinations as a mechanism for certification. The Red Seal program, which issues inter-provincial certification endorsements for 57 trades, relies on a must pass, 100 to 150 question multiple choice exam with a fixed pass score of 70% (Red Seal Program, 2016) as the single most important benchmark for certification. A focus on time spent in the trade, but not necessarily how that time is spent, is the second most used critical factor.
As someone who has worked for a number of years within the post secondary system and specifically in the trades context, this would seem to be an insurmountable challenge. All of the information and research around adult education over the last half century would lead us to believe that must pass certification exams combined with time in trade are not necessarily the best indicators of competence.
Other fields, such as the medical community are moving away from cumulative certification exams and time in trade towards more competency based models (Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, 2015). For those faced with the reality of our certification system in the trades, does this limit the ability of instructors to use technology to transform our educational practices, or does is mean that they have to approach the situation differently?
This presents an interesting paradox for those teaching and designing learning in the trades. While there are those who want to embrace the latest thoughts on course design and ways to use technology to deliver information and assess our students, the reality is that we must still prepare students to write a comprehensive, paper based, multiple choice, timed exam that will be recorded and scored on a bubble sheet. No books, no devices, and not even their instructor will be in the room, as the process is overseen by a third party government assigned invigilator.
Whether or not the students pass this test will be used to determine in part the effectiveness of the teaching, and may also be used to determine which programs get funded in the future, as educational budgets tighten. But does that mean that we can’t embrace better ways of imparting information to the student, and that we shouldn’t strive for students to really understand and interpret the content so that they can apply it to practice in the field? Bowen (2012) articulates how we can use instruments like multiple choice examinations to test higher level thought processes, and perhaps that is one way we can attempt to bridge the concept of using modern teaching practices in a world where antiquated assessment processes still exist.
The reality is, even in the most progressive universities and colleges there exist these kind of paradoxical challenges. I have no doubt that eventually the mechanisms by which we certify tradespeople will shift. I was fortunate to work on a national pilot with The Canadian Centre of Directors of Apprenticeship which tested out various competency based assessment approaches, and which is informing further work to evaluate and implement additional assessment methods and improved national occupational standards through the Strengthening the Red Seal Initiative (CCDA, 2012). It will likely be several more years yet before we see any real change how our summative Red Seal assessments work, but that doesn’t mean that embracing new ideas for teaching and using technology in and out of the classroom is for naught.
I can see that by building skills and scaffolding learning, along with using technology and elements of game play to deliver content and assess progress, we will make the students better prepared for the workplace, but also help them to pass the dreaded “final exam” at the same time. I liked how Bowen (2012) referred to students knowing all of the answers in the test bank as being perceived as cheating or teaching to the test, but his view was of them actually really having a full grasp on the content. We need to look at certification exams as a necessary evil, and do everything in our power to ensure our students are best prepared to succeed. Introducing game play and having them “level up” each time they master a section of the content is a great way to make that happen, as is finding new and engaging ways of delivering the content to them in ways that they will best be able to understand it.
Technology is changing education, but education changes at a much slower pace.
Association of American Colleges and Universities (2016) Trends in Learning Outcomes Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2015_Survey_Report3.pdf
Bowen, J.A. (2012) Teaching Naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (July 2012) Strengthening the Red Seal: Lessons Learned and Next Steps. Retrieved from http://www.red-seal.ca/images/SRS-FinalReport-ENG-Accessible.pdf
Contact North (2016) A 2016 Look at the Future of Online Learning – Part 1. Retrieved from http://teachonline.ca/tools-trends/exploring-future-education/2016-look-future-online-learning-part-1
Red Seal Program (n.d.) Overview of the Red Seal Examination. Retrieved from http://www.red-seal.ca/resources/.2x.1ms_.1b.4.5t-eng.html
Royal College of Physicians of Canada (n.d.) Competence by Design. Retrieved from http://www.royalcollege.ca/portal/page/portal/rc/resources/cbme