Vibes and Assessment

A recent column by Adam Mastrioanni calls attention to our experience of forgetting most of the facts that we learn in school. He provides a number of examples to illustrate this major point, including his own inability to recall nearly half of the titles of courses he took in college only eight years after his graduation.

Mastrioanni goes on to explain that we do seem to remember the “vibes” surrounding our formal educational experiences. While we lose the facts we work so hard to master, we do seem to retain the feelings we had as we engaged in our formal educational experiences.

This raises the interesting question of whether there are any implications for our approach to assessment in formal learning settings where we have created a robust testing regime that now encompasses virtually every level. We focus our testing activities on facts as the best representation of learning. This seems to be true even as we develop assessment activities that attempt to tap the application of those facts through more sophisticated assessments.

There is a temptation to suggest that assessment should be modified to take into account the impact of the vibes of educational experiences, but that might well be a mistake. Humans engage in many activities for multiple purposes or at times no ostensible purpose at all. Perhaps it is best to leave the most important and enduring impacts of education outside the scope of formal assessment. Moreover, perhaps it is best not to take formal assessments as seriously as we currently seem to do. Instead, we might encourage learners to reflect on their feelings so as to enrich the vibes from their learning experiences.

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