Towards a richer picture of learning journeys

From standardised testing to living CVs

Peter Twining Professor of Education, University of Newcastle, Australia

Having worked in the English education system for 35 years (as a primary school teacher, teacher educator, and academic) I moved to Australia in 2019 because I had become disillusioned about the scope to enhance schooling in England. While Australian schooling is ahead of England’s in many ways it shares the problem of high stakes assessment corrupting practice and damaging student wellbeing.

In the Industrial Age schooling was focussed on preparing folk for working on production lines – standardisation was the name of the game and standardised testing was an appropriate way to measure schooling. Today, in the Automation Age, we need to prepare young people to tackle wicked problems – standardised testing is no longer fit for purpose. We need new ways to assess the knowledge, competences and dispositions that people need to succeed.

Standardisation is not how the real world works

This got me thinking about how I came to be a professor. Looking at my CV it is clear that it was nothing to do with standardisation – most of the evidence in my CV is underpinned by peer review:

  • My publication record relies on peer reviewers (and anyone who has ever tried to publish an academic journal article will know that there is nothing standardised about reviewers’ feedback)
  • My grant success relies on peer reviewers thinking that the ideas underpinning my grant applications are interesting and important, and that I have the expertise needed to deliver the projects
  • My ‘service record’ (e.g. membership of editorial boards, invitations to be an examiner) relies upon people respecting and valuing my expertise
  • The number of keynotes and other invited presentations is based on peer review – people thinking that I have something interesting to say and can present it in an engaging way

Fundamentally, my career progression, after school & university, relies almost totally on peer review – and this seems to be the case for most careers. Employers want to know what other people think of you – they want great references and other forms of endorsement to complement formal qualifications.

Towards a living CV

The Australian Education Council (2020) argued that we need to develop “a digital Education Passport for lifelong learning – a living document that allows young people to capture progressively their education and training qualifications and workplace experience” (p.22).

I think we need to extend this notion of an Education Passport, creating a living CV that not only incorporates traditional CV elements such as qualifications and work experience, but also endorsements and recommendations that fully reflect your knowledge, competences and dispositions.

This looks very much like what LinkedIn offers – a living CV that includes your qualifications and work experience, alongside endorsements, recommendations and extended information to underpin your profile (e.g. in the form of posts).

My LinkedIn profile includes more than 50 endorsements for ‘Educational Technology’ – each of the people who endorsed me for that will have had quite different (non-standardised) views about what that endorsement meant – nonetheless cumulatively those endorsements are pretty compelling evidence that I have educational technology expertise.

Could we use a platform like LinkedIn to complement the traditional forms of reporting of school leavers’ learning?

Wouldn’t a LinkedIn-like profile that included young people’s academic achievements and work experience, complemented by endorsements and recommendations from people in the community (e.g. from voluntary work, clubs and other out of school activities) provide a much richer and more complete picture of their knowledge, competences and dispositions than a traditional school transcript?

Opening up real world possibilities

In addition, by developing something like LinkedIn for schools, students could:

  • explore potential careers – extending the possibilities beyond the jobs that your friends and family have – who ever thought you could be a personal shopper?! (Contrary to popular perception LinkedIn is quite egalitarian in the range of jobs/professions that it includes.)
  • find out what knowledge, competences and dispositions you need to succeed in the jobs they are interested in – by looking at the LinkedIn profiles of people who already have succeeded in those jobs
  • start to develop their professional networks – potentially helping to overcome social disadvantage for those young people whose parents cannot get them an internship in the local law firm – though of course they would need to be supported in how to network effectively (and safely).

In the Automation Age we need to think more creatively about how to evidence young people’s learning – we need summative assessments that meet key criteria, such as being valid, reliable AND ethical (not consigning 30% of the cohort to failure in order to fit a normal distribution pattern). Using something akin to LinkedIn seems like a potentially powerful tool to help complement traditional school metrics, and in so doing provide additional routes to success.

Responses to COVID-19 demonstrated that it is possible to change our summative assessment systems, and our challenge isn’t lack of potential solutions to the problem – it is creating the political will to implement them. Perhaps by collaborating internationally we can demonstrate the viability of new metrics and create the pressure needed to bring about systemic change in how we evidence students’ achievements.

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