‘The problem with history is there’s no future in it’

This was the most unexpected of the comments we collected on the post-its left by delegates who attended our Assessment Futures workshop at the recent round of annual SQA co-ordinator events. The events were run in five different venues across Scotland. Their purpose is to allow SQA to update co-ordinators on key developments and for co-ordinators to give us their feedback on what is working well and where improvement is needed. Our workshop aimed at sharing and getting feedback on the outcomes of our Assessment Futures work to date, to help inform future plans. At the end of each workshop we asked delegates to leave their parting thought on one post-it. With thanks to all those who did, this blog is based on these thoughts.

So what did we learn? A lot. More specifically we took away four main points:

On the evidence of the workshops there is real interest amongst the teaching profession in Scotland in exploring what and how we assess, and how that could and should look different over the medium to long term future. There was lively debate at each of the workshops. Our impression was that most who attended found the workshop useful. Some of the post-its provided evidence of this, noting that it ‘Generated some very useful discussion’, was ‘Very informative and interesting’ and ‘Thought provoking’. Another post-it said just ‘Intriguing’.

Focusing on the needs of learners, two delegates noted the ‘Need to change [our] thinking if children can succeed in future’ and that ‘Assessment needs to adapt to ensure that all young people have the best possible chance of success.’ At each session we asked whether we should be discussing the future of assessment. The strong consensus amongst the groups was that we should, or in the words of one delegate ‘Re-assessing assessment is an urgent priority – not an add-on’.

Caution over making changes too quickly. Whilst this may appear to contradict the urgency expressed in the point above, the sense was that we should begin the debate now and that any changes that result must be carefully considered. ‘Think it through before pushing for change’ was one delegate’s advice. Another was more direct, urging that we ‘Don’t rush in!’ The reason for this caution seemed to be captured in the aspiration that ‘We need to take the opportunities the future offers but take care not to leave anyone behind’. Combining the sense of a need for the debate now and for careful consideration before making any changes was the statement that this is ‘A discussion that needs to take place. A medium to long term strategy is essential.’

Recognition of the complexity entailed in making changes to assessment as it is to any aspect of education and training. ‘How do we remove media/politics from educational/pedagogical processes?’ asked one delegate, whilst another questioned ‘Are we as practitioners equipped to support and help drive it [change] forward?’  Another noted simply that the whole area represented ‘A huge challenge but what SQA [is] assessing and how needs to change’.

The place of technology in the future of teaching, learning and assessment featured prominently and was in itself seen as a source of complexity. This was reflected in a comment that ‘…one concern is that we generalise that we are teaching the digital generation/computer generation – however we are actually teaching the computer game generation who lack the ability to undertake basic tasks on computers/tablets – saving files etc’. Variation between and within schools and authorities in learners’ ability to access technology for teaching, learning and assessment was another recurring theme. This reflected the wider question of resourcing, captured in the post-it that read simply ‘Infrastructure’ and another which observed that ‘The future depends on the funding and resourcing that is available to schools. The answer to all of this can only be answered [sic] by politicians and the Scottish Government’. Returning to the question of the speed of change one delegate gave clear voice to the potential tension between doing it quickly and doing it well with their observation that ‘A genuinely inclusive national debate with all stakeholders is needed…..but is there time for this when change is so rapid?’

There is already a sense of some of the directions our approaches to assessment should take in future and of some key principles that should inform our thinking. One clear-thinking delegate asserted that ‘To modify our model of assessment we must first identify the skills we value.’ Others drew attention to the importance of changes in approaches to teaching, learning and assessment moving together as a ‘three-legged race’ in their comments that ‘Style of assessment must change in line with changes in learning and teaching’ and ‘Assessment of the future will need to reflect learning of the future’. Other comments suggested the need to intensify our focus on the development and assessment of skills, for assessment to be increasingly cross-subject and urged that in an increasingly technology-driven age we do not lose sight of the contribution of social sciences to developing the critical thinking and other skills that are increasingly in demand. One delegate was clear that ‘Future assessment needs to be flexible and learner driven!’ and another that a ‘Plan [is] needed to remove lengthy summative assessments sat by pupils in warm exam halls’.

So all in all some very useful …

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‘Can the soul of a man be trapped in the body of a woman and vice versa?’

This was one of the questions challenging the audience at last Friday’s TEDx Glasgow. Adam Kashmiry’s passionate exploration of how we construct our understanding of ourselves and those around us sat alongside talks on topics as diverse as new theories on the dark universe, the role anger and other emotions can play in undermining our wellbeing, development of …

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‘Risk and Reward: How do we deliver the benefits of e-assessment?’

This question was the theme of the 16th Annual e-Assessment Question conference held recently in London. SQA attended the conference as it has for a number of years to hear about latest developments in e-assessment from speakers from a wide range of backgrounds. All of this helps to inform our thinking about future directions for our own assessments. This year we were grateful for the opportunity to present together with John Winkley, Director of AlphaPlus, on the Assessment Expert Group meeting we held in London last June and reported on in our blog post of 12 July. Using the title of ‘Assessment Futures – Seeking to develop a consensus’, we explained the key themes for the future of assessment identified by the Group and invited feedback on whether others shared their views.

Whilst there are always some common themes at the conference, it also provides an opportunity to hear views on new and emerging technologies that could support assessment. This year this technology was blockchain. A very informative and thought-provoking session focused on the bold step taken by Malta which has reportedly become the first country to put educational records on the blockchain at scale. Their experience will be watched very closely for what it tells us about the potential of blockchain to underpin educational certification more widely.

The Conference also acts as the focus for the annual e-Assessment Awards organised by the UK’s eAssessment Association. SQA was delighted to sponsor the summative assessment award which was collected by the International Baccalaureate (IB) for its work on e-assessment for its Middle Years Programme. The approach taken by the IB has aimed to enhance the validity of its assessments through combining on-screen assessment in a range of subject areas with evidence gathering using an e-portfolio tool. The IB’s work provides a very useful case study for anyone involved in the development and implementation of new assessment approaches.

Closer to home, over the next couple of weeks we will be taking the findings from our Assessment Futures work to date to the series of SQA Co-ordinator Conferences which starts this Thursday in Inverness. We hope to see some of you there and look forward to hearing your views.

TEDx returns to Glasgow

On Friday 01 June TEDx Glasgow returns to the SEC in Glasgow, and for the first time, a new standalone event TEDxYouth@Glasgow will showcase the amazing talents of young people in Scotland.

If you can’t make it to Glasgow on Thursday 31 May for TEDxYouth@Glasgow, check out how to register for the live stream of the whole event here for free.

TEDx Glasgow 2017 was a major stepping stone for us last year as …

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Young Scot Ideas Gathering session

“A really good way to impact exams for future students.”

That was the view of one of the young people who formed part of Young Scot’s Assessment Futures Vision Panel and who attended the Ideas Gathering session with SQA on 28 March.

This session, was led and facilitated by the young people from across the county, and formed a key …

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‘Qualifications ecosystems need to pre-emptively disrupt from within or risk being unprepared for digital transformation.’

Since my last post we have had some great opportunities to gather further views to help inform our thinking about the future of assessment. The soundbite heading up this post was taken from ‘The Digitisation Agenda – Re-thinking the Role of Qualifications and Skills’ conference, organised by Quality and Qualifications Ireland on 24 October.

The starkness of the challenge presented in the …

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That’s the summer over…….

Well that’s the summer over (it was on a Thursday afternoon for us here Scotland this year) and we’re getting down to work on the next phase of our work on the future of assessment.

As my earlier posts reflected, we achieved a lot in June including our TEDx workshop and Assessment Expert Group meeting. Through these and a range of other activities we gathered some great feedback and views on the key factors that will influence the future of assessment. Over the past couple of months I have been busy digesting, synthesising and organising this feedback into a form that allows the team here to understand its implications for SQA. This marks the end of our Discovery Phase.

Our attention is now turning the next phase of work in which we will use the views gathered to date to help anticipate and plan for future learner needs. We plan to approach this by developing user stories which will articulate how our customers will expect to experience assessment in future. This work will involve a combination of internal workshops and further engagement with experts outside SQA who can sense check and inform our thinking.

Whilst this work is underway we will be continuing to seek views on the future of assessment in a number of ways. Just coming to …

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Assessment Expert Group meeting, Thu 29 Jun 2017 – Summary of outcomes

In my 10 July post, I reported that the Assessment Expert Group, we had set up with AlphaPlus had met. I now want to share some of the outcomes of the day with you.

The first task the group members were asked to undertake, was to deliver a 5 minute ‘elevator pitch’ focused on what they saw as the key issue, challenge or opportunity for assessment …

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Future of Assessment – what did TEDx Glasgow delegates think?

In my 29 June post I mentioned that we had hosted a Lab at TEDx Glasgow, as part of the information gathering phase of this project.

The Lab title was ‘What does a good one look like? Recognising the skills we need to succeed’, and it generated a rich and wide-ranging discussion with some interesting ideas and comments. We have now …

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Assessment Expert Group

In my 29 June post, I mentioned that we were working with the respected education consultants, Alpha Plus, to arrange a meeting of an ‘Assessment Expert Group’ comprising of experts in assessment, and leaders in digital technology and data science in education.

The group’s insights and collective experience will help us discover the approaches we need to adopt when developing …

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Future of Assessment – Discovery and Definition

SQA is taking a significant further step in determining the role we can play in helping to define the future of assessment.

Working together with respected education consultants, Alpha Plus, we have arranged a meeting of an ‘Assessment Expert Group’ comprising of experts in assessment, and leaders in digital technology and data science in education.

The obvious question is why …

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