When assessment interferes with the measured

There was a time, not so long ago, when no scientific presentation could afford to omit at least one cartoon from The Far Side. One of my personal favourites (which can be seen here) depicts people of an apparently remote part of the world hiding their luxury Western goods as anthropologists arrive unannounced in the village.

I was reminded of this cartoon recently whilst washing my hands at work. This surprising mental leap was prompted by the temporary addition of a tool for monitoring water consumption in one of our buildings.

Can the method of assessment interfere with the thing it is supposed to be measuring?

Can the method of assessment interfere with the thing it is supposed to be measuring?

As can be seen in the photograph, the equipment being used scores few points for subtlety. I cannot believe that people use their usual amounts of water when confronted by this instrument. This raises the question of their value given that the method of monitoring is almost certainly interfering with the thing that is being measured. Continue reading

Marking, remarking and meaningful learning

“Marking, remarking and meaningful learning: an assessment and feedback seminar” was held at the University of Leicester on April 4th 2008.  The event was organised by the Assessment and Feedback Working party of the University’s Student Experience Enhancement Committee and was attended by about 60 members of the academic community. The following are personal reflections and things that I took from the day.


The first presentation was given by Jon Scott, Director of Studies in Biological Sciences at the University. Jon’s cryptic title “How the baby got the Smartie” actually drew analogies between his research work on development of motor coordination skills and effective use of feedback. The ability of a baby to pick up a smartie from a flat surface is apparently a developmental landmark (presumably there are healthy options now available for choco-phobic parents). Research on brain activity whilst learning this task has shown that neurons are fired by failure to achieve the task, i.e. whilst the infant is self-feedbacking (is that a word?) . It knows what it is expecting (bright, interesting-looking object in mouth) and feedback modifies performance until it gets it. Once the task has been mastered, apparently, the relevant neurons go silent.

  Continue reading

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