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Educator, applied linguist, language tester.

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ATC21s week 2: A closer look at 21st century skills: collaborative problem solving

7 min read

This week I'm somewhat distracted by an upcoming trip to Bangkok to present at the 2nd Annual Asian Association for Language Assessment Conference. This is the first time I am formally presenting on my study, so I'm quite nervous! Fortunately I was able to squeeze in some time for week 2 of .

Here's a quick summary of this week's lesson:

1. What is collaborative problem solving (CPS)? There are existing problem solving models (cited are Polya, 1973, and PISA, 2003/2012), but they do not include the collaborative component. Therefore ATC21S has come up with their own:

  • Collect and share information about the collaborator and the task
  • Check links and relationships, organise and categorize information
  • Rule use: set up procedures and strategies to solve the problem using an “If, then..” process
  • Test hypotheses using a “what if” process and check process and solutions

The CPS construct is made up of social skills and cognitive skills.

2. Social skills are participation, perspective taking and social regulation skills. These can be further unpacked:

  • Participation: action, interaction and task completion
  • Perspective taking: responsiveness and audience awareness
  • Social regulation: Metamemory (own knowledge, strengths and weaknesses), transactive memory (those of partners), negotiation and responsibility initiative

There are behavioural indicators associated with each of these elements. (At this point, I was pretty sure that Care and Griffin don't mean to suggest that teachers conduct Rasch analysis themselves, but rather use already developed developmental progressions.)

3. Cognitive skills are task regulation, and knowledge building and learning skills:

  • Task regulation: problem analysis, goal-setting, resource management, flexibility and ambiguity management skills, collects information, and systematicity
  • Knowledge building and learning: relationships, contingencies and hypothesis Again, each element has associated indicators.

4. We come back to the developmental approach that integrates the work of Rasch, Glaser and Vygotsky. Teachers need a framework that they can use to judge where their students are in their CPS development. There are existing ones (such as the ubiquitous Bloom's), but none are suited to measuring CPS skills. So what we need is a new empirically derived framework that allows teachers to observe students in CPS action and judge where they are.

5. Empirical progressions are explained, and examples such as PISA and TIMMS given. We are then presented with the progression that ATC21S has developed for CPS. The table is too large to reproduce here, but essentially it expands all the elements in 3 and 4 into progressions so that you end up with five scales. 

 

Impressive right? Except I'm not quite sure about the tasks they used to developed this. The example they showed was of two students connected by the internet and chatting by typing, attempting to solve what appears to be more of a puzzle than a problem. That is, the sort of problem teachers cook up to test students' intellectual ability (shades of ?) The 2nd volume of the book series actually has a chapter that discusses this in more detail and seems to confirm that they used puzzles of this sort. I understand of course that doing it in this way makes it easier to collect the sort of data they wanted. But given that the tasks aren't very authentic, to what extent are they representative of the target domain? Are there issues of construct validity? I will need to read further, if there is available literature, before I make up my mind. It would be interesting, if not already done, to conduct a qualitative study using more authentic problems, more students per team, observation, artefact collection, (retrospective) interviews, and so on. You won't get the quantity of data as with the study but this sort of rich data could help us check the validity of the framework. It could also be of more practical value to teachers who actually have to teach and assess this without fancy software and a team of assistants.

I won't deny that I'm rather disappointed that Rasch measurement is really 'behind the scenes' here, though I'm not surprised. I can't help but wonder if it's really necessary to make Rasch appear so central in this course, especially since some of my classmates seem to misunderstand its nature. This is not surprising -- Rasch is not the sort of thing you can 'touch and go' with. There is some confusion about criterion referencing too (IMO it's hard to make sense of it without comparing it to norm referencing and explaining how they are used in assessment usually). ZPD is faring a little better, probably since it's familiar to most teachers. I am however surprised to see it occasionally referred to rather off-handedly, as if it's something that's easy to identify.

Would it make more sense to focus more on the practicalities of using an established developmental progression? It's too early to say I guess, but already quite a few of my classmates are questioning the practicality of monitoring the progress of large classes. This is where everyday ICT-enabled assessment strategies can come into play. I also hope to see more on how to make assessments really formative. I learnt from the quiz this week (if it was mentioned elsewhere I must have missed it) that assessments that are designed to measure developmental progression are meant to be both formative and summative. Okay, great, but IMO it's all too easy to miss the formative part completely without even realising it -- remember that an assessment is only formative if there's a feedback loop. The distinction between the two uses cannot be taken lightly, and there really is no point harping on development and ZPD and learning if we ignore how assessment actually works to make progress happen.

Which brings me to the assessment on this course. If you're happy with the quizzes so far you might want to stop reading here.

 

Diligent classmates may have noticed from my posts that I REALLY do not like the quizzes. Initially it was the first so-called self assessment that I took issue with. Briefly, its design made it unfit for purpose, at least as far as I'm concerned. After doing another 'self-assessment' for week 2 and the actual week 2 quiz, I'm ever more convinced that the basic MCQ model is terrible for assessing something so complex. It's quite ironic that a course on teaching and assessing 21C skills should utilise assessments that are assuredly not 21C. Putting what could be a paper MCQ quiz online is classic 'old wine in new bottle', and really we cannot assess 21C skills with 19C or 20C ways. I have written (to explain my own study) that:

... digital literacies cannot be adequately assessed if the assessment does not reflect the nature of learning in the digital age. An assessment that fails to fully capture the complexity of a construct runs the risk of construct under-representation; that is, being ‘too narrow and [failing] to include important dimensions or facets of focal constructs’ (Messick, 1996, p. 244).

Surely we cannot claim that the understanding of assessing and learning 21C skills is any less complex than 21C skills themselves? Of my initial findings, I wrote that:

We may be able to draw the conclusion that assessing digital literacies are 21st century literacies twice over, in that both digital literacies and the assessment thereof are new practices that share similar if not identical constituents.

Telling me that the platform can't do it differently is an unsatisfactory answer that frankly underlines the un-21C approach taken by this course. 21C educators don't allow themselves to be locked in by platforms. It seems that the course designers have missed out on a great opportunity to model 21C assessment for us. I'm not saying that it would be easy, mind you. But is it really possible that the same minds who developed an online test of CPS can't create better than the very average xMOOC?

Okay, I should stop here before this becomes an awful rant that makes me the worst student I never had. I am learning, really, even if sometimes the learning isn't what's in the LOs. And I will continue to persevere and maybe even to post my contrary posts despite the threat of being downvoted by annoyed classmates :P

ATC21s week 1: Defining 21st Century Skills

6 min read

I've been wondering what to write next, and in the end decided to change things up a bit. I am inspired by the second run of Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills MOOC which started yesterday. I'd strongly encourage anyone interested in this topic to join us! I actually registered for the first run last year but couldn't find the time to do any of the work. This time I'm more determined!

So for these five to six weeks I'm going to blog a weekly informal reflection on the course. It isn't a cMOOC, unfortunately, so I don't know how many people will be blogging along, but I'm going to do it anyway (and tweet too). I plan to write about my chief takeaways for the week, their implications for my own research interests, and any questions that occur to me.  

The theme for Week 1 is Defining 21st Century Skills. I am immediately engaged, since anyone who has to write about this topic struggles to define it! Here are the learning objectives, as they are called here:

  • Understand the influence of technology on the workplace, and the implications for schools
  • Understand what is meant by '21st century skills'
  • Be familiar with a range of approaches to defining 21st century skills
  • Be familiar with 21st century skills frameworks
  • Understand what is meant by a developmental approach to assessment and learning. 

(Interesting that Bloom's or similar is not a must here!)

 

We are introduced to a number of frameworks, starting from the ATC21s one, since the course is run by Esther Care and Patrick Griffin from the ATC21s team. They have developed the KSAVE (knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and ethics) model:

Ways of Thinking

1. Creativity and innovation

2. Critical thinking, problem solving, decision making

3. Learning to learn, Metacognition

Ways of Working

4. Communication

5. Collaboration (teamwork)

Tools for Working

6. Information literacy

7. ICT literacy

Living in the World

8. Citizenship – local and global

9. Life and career

10. Personal and social responsibility – including cultural awareness and competence

 

Here are the other frameworks introduced:

UNESCO 

  • Learning to know
  • Learning to do
  • Learning to be
  • Learning to live together 

 

OECD (3 overlapping circles) 

  • Use language, symbols and texts interactively
  • Interact in heterogenous groups
  • Act autonomously

 

P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning  

P21

 

European Commission Recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning

  1. Communication in the mother tongue;
  2. Communication in foreign languages;
  3. Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology;
  4. Digital competence;
  5. Learning to learn;
  6. Social and civic competences;
  7. Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship; and
  8. Cultural awareness and expression. 

 

And even though Singapore is a ATC21s member, MOE's 21st Century Competencies framework is not mentioned. Perhaps it's assumed to be aligned with the ATC21s framework. I include it here anyway for the sake of comparison.

21CC

 

 

Care and Griffin are clear that no framework can be a 'one size fits all', and so it isn't so much a case of competing frameworks but that different contexts have different needs. That said, I feel more attracted to KSAVE for reasons I can't really articulate now. I also note that UNESCO's framework is the only one here that doesn't refer to technology in some way, even obliquely. I'm not sure why that's so. Which framework makes most sense to you?

 

The other major takeaway is ATC21s's framework for what I think is essentially formative assessment. From the initial self-assessment quiz, which was supposed to tell me how much I already know and don't know (but was really too vague to do that), I gather that this framework is the crux of the course, which they will illustrate in the coming weeks using the example of Collaborative Problem Solving. I was surprised at this point to find my familiar friends Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky), criterion referenced assessment (Glaser -- though I shamefully have never cited him when I wrote about criterion referencing) and Rasch measurement. 

@sallyngsh might remember joining me for a talk by an NIE colleague on Rasch and ZPD. At that time I felt that the speaker wasn't really claiming that one could locate the ZPD using Rasch. But I think that this is precisely what Care and Griffin are claiming. Very briefly, the Rasch variable map lines up item difficulty and person ability along the same scale, and the developmental levels we infer from a criterion referenced scale can be lined up against this as well. So at the bottom we have low difficulty, low ability and the lowest level of development/competence. At the top we have high difficulty, high ability and the highest level of development/competence. A test-taker and an item on the same level of the scale indicates that that test-taker has about 50% probability of getting the item correct. The idea, if I understand it correctly, is that a teacher can look at this map and say these students are at this level, so I need to work with them on these items and items that are one level up (or similar), because this is the ZPD. 

Which is all fine and really quite brilliant. Except that the MOOC doesn't at this point address what I think many people familiar with Rasch measurement know: it's an obscure theory in an obscure field of study (among educators anyway), and seemingly difficult to grasp, even for people with a working knowledge of assessment theory and statistics. And to be honest, I don't know if that many teachers have such a working knowledge; many are statistics-phobic which would be a huge barrier here.    

The Self-directed Learning Oriented Assessment (SLOA) project in Hong Kong has actually introduced Rasch measurement to school teachers for use in formative assessment. The teachers were trained to use the program Winsteps; while they found using it challenging, they nevertheless were able to appreciate its benefits. Unfortunately, I don't think Rasch has become more widely known or practised subsequently. I've wondered a few times if I could possibly run introductory courses for teachers, but I'm not a university funded research programme, so this could be too ambitious, with zero demand locally.

I know now that one important question I'd like to answer by the end of this MOOC is: how can ordinary teachers get the hang of Rasch and use this framework in their classrooms, given that the investment of time and energy to do this is considerable, and their motivation and/or confidence low? A second: if ATC21s has a solution, can I play a part to make this an emerging assessment practice among Singapore teachers?

Looking ahead to the learning objectives in the coming weeks, I rather suspect that this MOOC will not offer a solution, and it might be unrealistic to expect it to anyway. But I would surely appreciate some clues and inspiration.