The ICT study programmes at Fontys University of Applied Sciences are no longer subject to exams.

Why did you become a lecturer? Everyone has their reasons, but what you often hear is that lecturers like to share knowledge, prepare young people for real life and a lot of other, legitimate, beautiful reasons. How does it work in practice? We often see a lecturer telling his story in front of a group not interactive. Do teachers want to change this? Do they want a more coaching role or do they still prefer to orate in front of the class?

Lecturers are sweating in front of the class to tell their story to a generation that is impatient, wants quick results and is used to swiping, skipping and surfing. Concentration is low and a lecturer has to jump, dance, sing and make jokes to hold attention.

Stop with exams

But does a lecturer have to keep a story and forty slides with the idea that a student learns from it? Fortunately, there are many other proven ways. Start the change by quitting exams. You don’t want to train professional exam makers, you want to train professionals. At the same time this requires a different didactics, in which students learn more actively.

At Fontys School of ICT, we have removed the traditional tests since 2013 and we still receive sometimes students inside who report: “I’d like to take a test.” Apparently on the secondary school they have already become professionals in making tests. Contributing to a project group or keeping a portfolio is for them out of the comfort zone.

What are you testing? Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences distinguishes intelligence in different ‘modalities’ as opposed to a general skill. These include musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, physical-kinetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, existential and pedagogical skills. Based on two decades of brain research, the theory suggests that we have all these competences to varying degrees.

Traditional paper exams and standardised tests, however, measure specific modalities like verbal-linguistic or logical-mathematical. This gives many students, especially the artistic, athletic and social, the feeling that they are not intelligent. But the reality is that their specific type of intelligence is simply not measured (Gardner, 2014).

Feedback by assessment

Eric Slaats, Associate Professor of Fontys School of ICT says: “We think that assessing should be meaningful, part of the learning experience and precise (assessment as learning). You can’t reach that with written tests” So how do we test? We test by means of assessments, as often as possible. We make use of tools, such as Feedpulse (an app in the electronic learning environment), to record the student’s verbal feedback they received from the lecturer. Lecturers respond and can indicate progress through emoticons. A smile means “Well on your way!” and a crying face “Wake up, you can do better, come on!”. In addition, the students also give emoticons to their own functioning.

In practice, we often see that students ‘judge’ themselves less positively than the lecturer. Maybe because they are modest or want to come across as modest. The prejudice that sometimes plays with teachers that a student would always give himself a high grade, we don’t see in practice.

Assessment is about collecting and interpreting information about the learning process on the one hand, and the performance of the student on the other hand. During feedback conversations the student learns to what extent he is making progress and where he stands within the development trajectory. This requires the student to be open to feedback and continuously seeks constructive feedback himself, and then use it as a start or to monitor his learning path. Feedback elicits the ‘drive’ from students to learn and to keep learning. In this way, every assessment moment is also a learning moment (Dochy, 2018).

Learning by doing

But this requires a different didactics than the model in which the lecturer is ‘transmitting’ in front of class. Tony Wagner, a bestselling author and educational expert, says in his book Creating Innovators: “We continue to believe that school is mainly about acquiring substantive knowledge. We emphasize the importance of skills too little. What is tested is what is learned.” (Wagner, 2014).

Our model with assessments includes the concept of “learning by doing”. A human being learns best by doing, being busy and finding solutions himself. Thus, a student also discovers that he must have some basic skills to move on. The role of the lecturer is to expose knowledge. Learning by doing means trying things out, formulating hypotheses and testing them.

But a student can’t just do this. The lecturer must be there to guide him to the right experiences. The lecturer must also be there to answer a student’s questions, or at least to to listen to his questions and perhaps suggest ways in which he might find the answer himself. Curiosity comes from trying things out, occasionally failing, explaining why and trying again. Assessments are an excellent tool for this, and they replace exams. With that, teaching to the test disappears.

If we are invited by other universities of applied sciences to tell a story about our didactic model, then we see the greatest resistance among lecturers who are used to teaching in a certain way, and who have little faith in the students. If you stay focused on the obstacles, you’ll only see the obstacles, instead of seeing the possibilities. Change in teaching also takes time. Ad Vissers, managing director of our Fontys School of ICT study programmes says: “I don’t want revolution, I want evolution”. Take your time and change step by step. Start with the easiest part and replace tests with assessments. What about students? They can switch quickly and after a short withdrawal phase, they are working hard on the challenges we have presented.

Erdinç Saçan teaches ICT & Business at Fontys School of ICT. Also member of iCoP – Innovation Community of Practice. iCop focuses on short-term innovation projects to make education more effective.

Literature references

Dochy, W., Dochy, F. & Janssens, M. (2018). Assessment as Learning (AaL) – Bouwsteen van High Impact Learning that Lasts (HILL). Consulted on November 28 , 2019, from: http://highimpactlearningthatlasts.com/Documenten/AssessmentAsLearning_NL.pdf

Gardner, H. (1995). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York, United States: Fontana Press.

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning. Thousand Oaks, United States: Sage Publications.

Shank, R.C. (1995). What we learn when we learn by doing. Technical report, 60 (1).

Wagner, T (2014). Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. New York, United States: Simon & Schuster.

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