Assessment tasks in professional education
As we pointed out in Chapter 2, if one takes an inventory of the time that students spend in university education, preparing for and completing assessments comes high on the list. Assessment tasks are taken seriously by students.
Understanding the nature of assessment tasks can tell us a lot about what teachers are aiming to achieve, what students will experience, what they will come to know, what they will be able to do, and what kinds of relationships they will form with knowledge practices in their professions. Of course, neither the goals set by teachers in assessment tasks, nor the contexts in which the tasks are given, can determine, in any strong sense, the specific ways in which students will approach these tasks, the epistemic practices in which they will engage, or their learning outcomes. Students’ approaches to the tasks they are set vary considerably and what they actually do (their actual activity) determines what they learn (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999; Biggs & Tang, 2007; Ginestié, 2008a; Goodyear, 2005; Hallden, Scheja, & Haglund, 2008). That said, task and activity are not unrelated. They are dynamically interacting elements that play significant roles in the same complex system of learning. Assessment tasks can be regarded as “critical agents” (or “leverage points”) in the overall ecology of learning: a small change in the specification of a task, can bring about a big change in students’ activities, experiences and outcomes.
Assessment tasks offer us a handy empirical focus. They provide an important gathering point where knowledge meets performance and observable outcome. To make this more explicit, we can draw parallels, while acknowledging some differences, between an expert practitioner’s work – creating professional products – and a student’s work – producing assessment artefacts. When we focus on students’ work on specific tasks, learning activities and outcomes become “well-defined, goal-oriented and concrete” and manifested in concrete actions and artefacts.
Our empirical focus in this chapter is assessment tasks that students complete in university courses as a part of preparing for professional practice. As we are interested in epistemic practices in professional learning, we have deliberately selected courses that are taught before or concurrently with students’ short-term practical experiences, internships or work placements. (These courses often have titles like Craft knowledge, Professional practice, or Development of professional experience.) This choice of empirical focus – on the boundary of professional learning and work – provides insights into:
- bridging epistemologies, that (aim to) link knowledge and ways of knowing in university with ways of thinking and doing in professional settings, and
- fundamental challenges that future professionals, and their teachers, experience in making the shift from students’ epistemic practices (ways of thinking and doing in university courses) to professional epistemic practices (ways of thinking, acting and being in workplaces).
Our conceptual perspective draws on the idea of mediation: object-focussed and artefact-focussed practice and knowing. We see artefacts as having multimodal dynamic affordances for knowing: knowledge and things yet to be known. The concepts that inform our approach evolved on the boundaries between several theoretical traditions and have their empirical roots in developmental psychology, socio-cultural studies, anthropology, science and technology studies (STS), and organizational research.
Source: These are extracts from Chapter 8 of Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (forthcoming, 2015). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer. This is a close-to-final draft. Please check the final published version if you are going to quote it. The book is available from Springer’s e-shop.
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