Monday, May 04, 2009

Knowing What You Know

In "Categories of Risk" I dissected Donald Rumsfeld's factorization of epistemology and discovered a missing term: unknown knowns. Ed Nuhfer has put the idea of "known knowns" to work in the classroom.

I often find good stuff in the Inside Higher Ed article comments, like their April 28 piece "Assessment is Widespread." The conclusion of the article is that learning outcomes assessment happens more than commonly believed, and has for a long time. Some commenters beg to differ, pointing out that it may not be of much quality or may not even be used for anything. David Cleveland writes something more interesting:
Dr. Ed Nuhfer (California State University - Channel Islands) has worked extensively in the development of Knowledge Surveys that cause the faculty member to develop clear, chronological expected student learning outcomes and then conduct pre and post-tests on student confidence to demonstrate these skills.
The idea is to find out if students think they know how to successfully answer items on a test. It didn't take long to track down research papers on this idea entitled "The Knowledge Survey: A Tool for All Reasons" by Ed Nuhfer and "Knowledge Surveys: What Do Students Bring to and Take from a Class?" by Delores Knipp.

This approach neatly gets to the heart of the assessment problem in a very elegant way. It connects the learner with the material in a meta-analysis that forces him or her to think about the process of learning. At a bare minimum, the student must consider "do I know this or not?" But because of the way the items are structured, solutions are not so easily wrought, and the idea of partially knowing is natural. This could lead to rich classroom discussions about not just the material, but also the complexity (or difficulty) of the task, and why it may be difficult. I've burned a lot of blogging bits on the idea of complexity and its impact on how assessment works, so this approach naturally appeals to me. Ignorance begets meta-ignorance was the subject of this post in February, based on a New York Times piece claiming that those who don't know, don't know they don't know. So it seems that teaching students to understand the limits of their understanding is extremely useful. One of the non-cognitive dimensions linked to student success identified by William E. Selacek is realistic self-appraisal.

This post just scrapes the surface of this topic. More to come.

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