Welcome to On Assessment, an open-educational resource (OER) created by the very first cohort of Special Topics in Assessment, a seven-week, fully online, (mostly) asynchronous, elective course in the Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (TLHE) certificate program at Centennial College in Toronto, Canada.
Launched in the winter of 2021 (in this year of COVID), Special Topics in Assessment was designed to bring members of the Centennial College community together as colleagues and collaborators — to offer them an inviting, open and safe virtual space where they would be able to engage with one another in a time of social distancing and isolation. Through their course of study, Special Topics in Assessment students have been challenged to think more deeply about the “why” of assessments — and to consider how we might make assessments more meaningful for students and teachers alike in the semesters and years to come.
Special Topics in Assessment is a unique course offering that is based upon five foundational — and assessment-related — concepts. These are: being curious (demonstrated by working through critical pedagogy), embracing the open (achieved through an exploration of open pedagogy), exercising choice (exercised through inquiry-based learning), being brave (harnessing what Amy Collier and Jen Ross (2015) have described as the concept of “not-yetness”) and awareness (expressed through the process of critical reflection).
With its inherently open and flexible design, Special Topics in Assessment applies a rather modern approach to the online learning experience — even if, in the early weeks, it’s an unfamiliar and uncomfortable one. It’s helpful to note here that that is by design — and that the course has also been designed to foster in participants a sense of confidence around working with the five foundational concepts, as learners are ever-so-gently pushed out of their comfort zones that are rooted in more traditional teaching and learning experiences. Learners work through their perceptions on the process of assessment — and, in particular, the mindset on learning success defined in the first place — and may take comfort in the knowledge that this is all being done in a safe and open way.
The Special Topics in Assessments journey begins with asking learners to consider big-picture questions like:
- What do you think student success means — both for an institution and for students — and who defines this?
- Do you think we measure the full spectrum of learning through our assessments?
- Do you think grading motivates students to learn?
- Do you have any personal assessment experiences that have caused you to question current assessment approaches (be that from the perspective of a student, a teacher, and/or a parent)?
Over the course of seven (admittedly short) weeks, learners are then challenged to engage and apply a critical and inquiry-based approach to explore emerging areas of assessment theory and design in post-secondary education. Along the way, participants are supported in their examination of the benefits and disadvantages of new approaches to and/or factors affecting assessment and encouraged to share their thoughts and questions on four special topics in assessment: renewable assessments, un-grading, equity-minded assessments and the future of assessments by participating in live and online discussions. Learners are further challenged to narrow-down their study to focus on two of these special topics — and that focus is sharpened again when learners approach the final summative assessment, a renewable assessment that invites participants to reflect critically upon one emerging approach to assessment and offers learners an opportunity to contribute that reflection as a chapter to On Assessment, an open-educational resource found on the Pressbooks platform. This living document will then serve as a collective resource for other educators.
The chapters of On Assessment have been curated and organized by the creators (and our most caring and flexible facilitators) of the course, Paula Demacio and Mindy Lee — both of whom are professors with Centennial College’s Centre for Organizational Learning and Teaching (COLT). As all contributions to this OER have been made by the Special Topics in Assessment students — a group of people who have been brought together simply by choosing to enrol in this course and who, by extension, represent the diverse and inclusive community of teachers and learners you find across Centennial College’s six campuses, 160+ programs (and beyond), the chapters in this book are unedited and authentic — and as such, genuinely reflect the moment that we are living and learning in right now (the uncertain and unusual time of COVID). Future cohorts will develop reflections on their own learning experiences in Special Topics in Assessment, and will of course create new chapters that will serve to flesh-out (and perhaps even add to) the existing sections of this resource. These future contributions will, in turn, reflect where their creators are at that time — and it is our hope that this resource always reflects the societal, economic and political times in which it is updated each term.
And so today, April 27, 2021, we launch our renewable, summative assessment — our living resource On Assessment — a collection of reflections informed by the unique learning experience in Special Topics in Assessment. And with the click of the “publish” button on our Pressbooks platform, we release our thoughts — and a semester of hard work — out into the open. As it happens, there is a little bit of an extra meaning in the release of our work out into the open today — as it coincides with Centennial College’s [first] Assessment Day virtual conference.
We invite you to explore On Assessment at your leisure. We hope our work inspires you, our dear reader, to think more deeply about your own perceptions on assessment too.
Jennifer Elliott Cropper, BA, PDipJ
Learner, Special Topics in Assessment
Part-time Faculty, School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts (SHTCA)
April 27, 2021