Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Networking 2.0 for Assessment Professionals

That assessment has grown as a profession is obvious from the size and number of conferences devoted to the topic, and there is a thriving email list at ASSESS-L where practitioners and theoreticians can hold asynchronous public conversations. There are, however, limitations to this approach, and the purpose of this post is to speculate on more modern professional social networking that might benefit the profession.

I just turned 50, so my first response to any new idea is "Why is this important? I don't have much time left, you know."  So let's start with...


  1. To find out what other people think about something related to assessment.
  2. To connect with others who have similar assessment interests.
  3. To disseminate information, such as job listings, conference announcements, or research findings.
  4. To help establish a portfolio of professional activity.
One of the things on my personal wish list is a repository for learning outcomes plans and reports than could be seen and commented on by others. I think this transparency would reduce the variability in (e.g.) accreditation reviews of same.

This leads to...


Below I'll describe some of the models that I have come across. There are surely others.

Email Lists 
This is currently done. There's a searchable archive, but it's not tagged with meta-data to make browsing and searching easier. My purely subjective ratings by motivations 1-4 listed above are:
  1. Email is great for finding out what others think, but the relative merit of any one response to a question is not easy to ascertain from the responses; there's a silent majority. Conversations are only threaded by subject line.
  2. Connecting with others is easy enough, but searching their post history to look at the subjects is not.
  3. Disseminating information is a strength of the email list, until it becomes spam-like.
  4. Participation on email lists is probably not something you can put on your resume.
Reddit-Style Discussion Board
Reddit.com is a segmented combination of news aggregator and discussion board, with threaded comments and a voting system to allow a consensus to emerge.
 It's easy to create a 'sub-reddit' on the site itself, or one can use the open-source platform to start from scratch.

Comments related to the motivations:

1. One can write "self-posts" that are like public text messages of reasonable length, to invite others' opinions, OR post a hyperlink to something interesting on the internet. It's very flexible as a general-purpose way to share ideas and create threaded conversations. Voting is a low threshold to involvement, and so there's more participation.

2. One can easily see someone else's post history, but these are not tagged with meta-data. There is a 'friend' feature to follow people of interest, and private messaging within the system is possible.

3. Reddit is a 'pull' rather than 'push' communication, meaning you have to actually go look at the site to see posts, as compared to emails, which arrive in your in-box whether you want them to or not. For the purpose at hand, this is probably preferred by some and not by others. Many assessment professionals are probably too busy to go surf the internet during the day. There are RSS feeds, however.

4. Reddit has a reputation system built in, and active (and popular) users accumulate 'karma'. But the site is not set up to be a meeting place for professionals, and it would have to be off-sited and re-themed to change the perception of it as a place for teens to post memes.

The StackOverflow Model

Stackoverflow.com, mathoverflow.net, and many other similar sites now exist to serve as a meeting place for professionals of different stripes. Comments:

1. The 'overflow' model excels at the Q&A give and take; this is its strong suit. Users post questions with meta-data to categorize them. Others can comment on the question or post a solution. All of these (question posts, comments, and solutions) can be voted up or down, and the original poster (or OP) can select a solution as the best, at which point it gets a check mark as 'best answer.'

2. User profiles are quite detailed, with graphs of activity and reputation scores. These are easily associated with meta-data tags, so it's nearly ideal for finding others with similar interests.

3. Each site has a culture and stated rules about what should and should not be posted. For example, 'soft questions' like "how much caffeine do you consume while writing code?" are generally frowned on, as job ads would be at most sites. But this is all adjustable. Like Reddit (and email for that matter), it requires some moderation, but users providing up or down votes provide most of the filtering.

4. The reputation system built into the overflow model is plausibly usable as an indicator of professional activity. For example, see the page for Joel David Hamkins at MathOverflow.net--a site for working mathematicians.

Other possibilities including using Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+ or Academia.edu or ResearchGate.net as a base platform. These all have the vulnerability of being beholden to a corporate interest, however.

More Connections

In addition to posting learning outcomes ideas/plans/reports/findings for public review, a well-designed professional networking site could seamlessly overlap with conference presentations, so that individual sessions could have a backchannel on the site as well. Twitter can accomplish this through hash tags, but these are limited and not combined into an easily findable place.

There are also possibilities for crowd-sourcing problems using collaboration sites, but this goes beyond the present scope.

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