The 4th talk in our TILE network speaker series saw us welcome Robin Macpherson and “The Myth of Sisyphus: Assessment and Absurdity”.  As has been the case with all our TILE talks much discussion was generated amongst the audience. The following are some thoughts that I wanted to share with you.

Sisyphus may represent an uphill struggle, and, in some part, this was evident in the talk, but there was more to it than just that.  The idea of difficulty was introduced, but more discussion was fostered about how we can overcome various struggles.  The world of assessment and feedback is a bit like a map of a very intricate underground tube system that is going somewhere but having to navigate quite a complex route to get there.  It can often feel, within education regardless of setting, that you are riding the inner circle route continually going around and around.  Robin offered us some insight about this idea but also provoked much thought in how we can break away from this.

Image from Pixabay

Highlighting the fundamental shift in education within the last quarter of a century saw us being introduced to the value of assessment for learning, but not without problems.  Assessment data often drives performance and can overshadow students desire to understand, frequently the case when faced with high stakes assessments. However, it was not only assessment that presented problems.  Feedback also caused some angst. 

Some may argue that feedback is seen as a form of art and if it is to be meaningful needs to be pitched at the right level and time in order to reduce the risk of fostering a sense of learned helplessness.  The notion that too much feedback isn’t always helpful was put out there and that aiming to support and develop the student should be at the forefront of giving feedback.  A point in the discussion that resonated with me was in using innovative methods and tools, such as retrieval practice, in the form of low-stakes testing that encourages and optimises learning. This as well as developing learning through assessment questions, thus breaking away from students just performing to students growing their knowledge and application of this was key messages for me.

Facilitating this growth through feedback should not be an onerous task and it was suggested that feedback should be worth and work more for the person receiving over the person giving. The practicalities of this is not always easily achieved and the idea that we should use self and peer assessment was offered.  Ensuring feedback that is clear, actionable, specific and timely are key ingredients.  The discussion of assessment and feedback was brought to a close with a Robin MacPherson adaptation on Camus ‘The Absurd Hero’ quote of “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” and directed us to consider how instead “one must make teachers happy”!

Here is the video of the talk for you.

Please feel free to comment below if you have additional thoughts!