What Do Marks Measure?

We are told that marks (or grades) and qualifications are signals which serve to tell prospective employers about the worthiness of candidates for jobs … this as per classical economic theory. However, reading this article makes one think … what are marks measuring in the contemporary examination system in India?

There are a few possible things one could deduce from here:

  1. Children graduating schools are made up of different stuff, and are extremely bright.
  2. The University folks have lost it.
  3. The exam system is not exactly measuring earning.

Back when we were in school (this is another millenium, remember!) getting 80% in English meant you were really, really good at the subject. Mere mortals managed anything in the low to mid-70s, with some folks managing the 60s. Today, we are seeing a cut-off of 100% for Computer Science courses. If this is based on PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics), then one can assume that the kids are graduating school with exceptional understanding of the subjects. However, by the time these kids graduate, we find that corporates struggle to meet their hiring numbers. On the other hand, scoring 90s in English today should mean the kids should have an exceptional grasp of the language, but that isnt borne by observation.

Personally, I believe that the exam system is barking up the wrong tree (for biologists), or climbing up the wrong pole (for the rest of us). Marks dont seem to be measuring learning, though I dont know what they are measuring. To get a real understanding, exams need to test the kids, not on straight application of formulae, but to ask questions two or three steps removed from the data. And this isnt quite difficult to do.

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The Focus Of Education

When we talk about education, we are talking about giving the children the right answers. We teach the children to answer questions. That means, the focus of education is on answers, as Lawrence Krauss says in this video.

What is more important is to teach children to ask questions. Answers are the consequence of questions, so it is important for children to learn how to ask questions. If children know to ask the right questions, they can find the answers they need. Education needs to be to teach children to ask questions, and then, only then, try to find the answers. In the process of finding answers lies a high level of learning.

This isnt necessarily true of the sciences, but of any subject. I believe that this demarcation between science and the humanities is an artificial one, and that children need to be taught to ask questions and find their answers in all realms. For example, when teaching history, instead of telling them the facts, if children can be taught to ask questions like what circumstances led to the emergence of a civilization or a culture, or what was the social milieu in which an empire grew, the children would learn more about history just trying to find answers to these questions than today.

In this process, the teacher needs to, to begin with, guide students to the fundamental questions and their answers, about the subject being introduced, and from there on, help children formulate questions. Children should be encouraged to come up with new questions, and then, either the teachers could answer those questions, or enable collaboration in the classroom which lets children find out the answers to these questions.

As you can see from the Kalikuppam, Gateshead and Turin experiments, children’s natural curiosity, and their ability to collaborate easily can be harnessed to enhance education being provided. This curiosity can be channeled into asking the right questions, and this collaborative nature can be channeled into exploring the vast sources of information available to the children, and to find the right answers from there.


What is Gamification?

This is one of the buzzwords today, and probably not very well understood. What is gamification, and why is it important? Does it mean learning by playing games? Or marketing through games? So heres a short video which i thought covered the ideas quite well, giving some nice examples of the different aspects of what makes gamification important.

The video, i feel, is spot on. Gamification helps create more interest, more engagement from the audience through giving them the sense of participation in something which is fun. This participation leads to a sense of achievement and progress towards something definite (whether it is a badge, or completing a level), and fosters a level of somewhat fun competition.

Though i feel one of the aspects which could be added to the list of things which are important building blocks of gamification is recognition. The competition pillar, i feel, instead of pride, could do better with recognition. This, i feel, is more important when you look at gamification from the perspective of education. While the competition aspect is important, it is more important to build a collaborative environment for students to learn in, because in that way, students can focus more on what they are learning, rather than focusing on a competitive aspect of learning, or focusing only on exam marks and rankings in class.

Of course, an important area where the principles of gamification need to be looked at very seriously is education, because by doing so, we could make education, and the process of learning fun, and student-centric.

Heres a video which gives a very nice and simple way of applying gamification to education.

This video gives a simple framework for applying the principles of gamification to the process of learning. As you can see, in theory, its quite simple to do, but it represents such a significant change from the system that exists today, that doing something like this may require quite a bit of doing.

Instead of having children getting marks which mean something to the children only in a relative sense, and hence make children look at how well they are doing compared to other students, gamification can help shift the focus of children to what they are learning, which level they have reached with respect to every topic, and which topics they need to focus on to reach higher levels.

These principles, coupled with the idea of structuring the education delivery process as i had written about earlier, could bring about a sea-change in the level of engagement, and hence the levels of learning, of students.

Apart from this, the video focuses on the process of education. Another aspect, which is probably for another day, is the gamification of content, which, i feel, is an equally important aspect of making education more engaging, fun, and useful.


Changing Face of College Education …

I had written earlier about how technology is changing the face of education. Besides, theres plenty written on the topic, so theres not much point is me writing more. Having said that, though, not much has been written about what could be the new face of education. I came across a blog which i thought was a bit different, in that it spelt out the changes which we could see. There are three things which the blog says:

1. Most initial level teaching at university level will be done through online presentations.

2. Learning and assessment will be more social.

3. Teaching will happen in very different ways.

I believe the teaching of classes is something which universities could look at changing quickly. Instead of professors teaching the same courses year after year to different students, the teaching could be more technology-enabled. This means that:

1. Theoretical aspects of courses could be video recorded, with the professors providing the content, and presenters presenting that content to students. This way, professors get much more time to do things other than teaching the same content again and again.

2. Professors could use this time to better engage their students through coursework. What this would mean is that instead of teaching classes, professors could develop assignments, design comprehensive project work, moderate discussions, answer student questions, run quizzes, referee peer assessment, all this without taking any extra time to their working day. All of these could be done in a social form.

In other words, students would collaborate to learn, and professors would:

1. Provide theoretical inputs through online classes.

2. Create learning environment.

3. Facilitate the learning process.

This means not just that the profile of the teacher could change, but this also means that the way students study, learn, and are evaluated, could change. And the learning structure would change, from being teacher-centric, to being student-centric.