I want a magic machine that scans a student’s brain and tells me EXACTLY what s/he learned in my class. I want the machine to accurately make all the decisions and judgement calls around grade assignment and I want it to offer rich and meaningful feedback to the student. I want this glorious machine to be connected to the student’s brain all semester long, so it can deliver a constant stream of personalized guidance…it would be like each student would have a tiny ME in their heads! The machine would assess the ability to THINK, so that robot-like efforts to simply check off a list of requirements would never lead to an “A.” My magic machine would be completely “BS” proof, flawlessly detecting any attempts to defraud the assessor. My machine would not be fooled!
I really wish I had this magic machine today, because assessment is really hard. I know that someday I will no longer feel like a “baby teacher” and I will transition into a place where I am more sure of my methods…and maybe then my classes will feel like less of a daily experiment. But right now, as I set my sights on final exams and research papers, I am confounded by the confounding factors that blur my ability to assess whether or not my students “got it.” Physio has been tricky this semester. I am not satisfied with the flipped lectures, the pace of content delivery, or the in-class activities. Frustration levels (for all parties involved) have been high and exam scores have been low. And our culminating research paper project has been a barely salvageable train wreck (though much improved from the last time I tried it!). I struggle between owning responsibility for the difficulties (“my fault”) and requiring student accountability (“your fault”). Many students capitalize on this ambiguity and I find lots of fingers pointing my way. It is a fine line to walk between acknowledging your mistakes and getting pushed into a defensive corner.
Today, I think the appeal of the magic assessment machine is the way it would first shift many of those fingers away from me…but perhaps the more important value is that it would also give me confidence that I KNOW what my students KNOW and their grades absolutely reflect this.
I’m pretty sure my magic machine is a dream (regardless of how hard textbook companies are working to make it a reality!) Maybe I don’t really need the machine at all…maybe I will someday turn into a “grown-up” teacher and find myself just sitting more comfortably in my ability to accurately assess what students KNOW. Yeah…I think this is the more likely outcome.