Assessment and conversation

Konrad Glogowski is the author of the blog of proximal development. I have found his reflective explorations of his experiences as a teacher using blogs, and a doctoral candidate researching blogs and teaching, to be always interesting and thought-provoking.

In a recent entry, Unending conversation, he reflects on the changing role of the teacher, and his own transformation from a ‘teacher who peddles content’ to one engaged in the co-construction of knowledge with his students. Several of his comments stood out for me:

I no longer view the texts produced by learners as definitive pronouncements or conclusive statements on assigned topics. Texts are tentative attempts to construct knowledge and, if they are produced within a community of inquiry-oriented peers, they will lead to further knowledge building and meaning-making.


The discourse of one always interacts with and interanimates the discourse of others. Definitive statements and conclusions are discouraged. Instead, we build our understanding through incomplete attempts at constructing knowledge, attempts that will always remain incomplete because it is their very incompleteness that allows us to keep constructing, to keep questioning, revising, and reflecting.

So much of our assessment at university level – essays, exams etc – is focussed on ‘testing knowledge’ and asking students to answer questions with their statements and conclusions. Our assessment tasks serve to end conversations, rather than begin them. We demand answers rather than questions, we give marks rather than participate in dialogue, we make the limited conversation of those marks and the feedback private rather than collaborative. We expect students to ‘complete’ a conversation about huge complex topics in 1,000 words or maybe 2,000 or 2,500, within the space of a 13-week semester.

I know that we have to balance the reality of demands of time, and the expectations of systems of marking, examining and ranking students, but perhaps the learning of our students, and their motivation, might increase if the emphasis was on encouraging their assessment tasks as the beginning of constructing knowledge – necessarily tentative and incomplete by their very nature – and continuing the collaborative conversation around and beyond the tasks themselves.


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