Pushing the Frontiers of New Assessments – EDGE2011

My talk at EDGE2011 in Delhi was part of a panel that was presenting different thoughts on cutting edge developments in Assessments. I specifically focused on the tracking data, metrics and corresponding analytics that could be found by using games and simulations (or blends of the two).

When I talk of Games and Simulations, I typically classify and differentiate between various types in the following sense.

For me, leaving aside gaming for entertainment genres, games and simulations are a rich source of tracking virtually any kind of learning activity, experiential or intellectual. Some domains may be extremely abstract, of course, and not lend themselves to any clear ways of assessing learning. There is also the argument that games may not lend themselves to clear linkages with performance on the job. But, in essence, games and simulations allow learning and assessment solution designers to build rich reflective environments from which we can make informed judgments of performance.

For simulations and games, as also for Alternate Reality Games, the real complexity is in the design of the environment – the complex of objects and their changing relationships with each other – which by itself is also a dynamic emergent phenomenon. Take for example this hospital simulation developed by Indusgeeks and IIL.

This simulation is built up upon a complex environment of objects and their relationships within the added affordances of a Virtual World environment. There are some key advantages of these types of simulations.

Firstly, since the platform is that of a virtual world, players can visually observe the behaviour of other participants in the same scene. This lends itself to a way in which player behavior can be assessed and feedback provided. This is critical to solve many infrastructural challenges. LABs are expensive to build and maintain in a physical world and there are space-time limits to intervention by teachers. In a virtual world, actions can be recorded – thereby not only breaking the time challenge, but also by enhancing the teacher’s ability to capture and display best practices. Not only that, it allows teachers to personalize feedback by being part, directly or indirectly, of multiple virtual spaces concurrently. Imagine having a set of consoles at the command of a teacher – each monitoring a specific LAB – that would show indicators when a student is stuck or making a serious mistake!

Secondly, the scenario can be manufactured. Often, scenarios can be constructed that are difficult to replicate in real life. But artificially manufactured scenarios, provided they are sufficiently hi-fidelity, can provide an intense learning/assessment experience. By virtue of this manufacturing activity, the domain knowledge is exposed in a substantial manner, thereby supervening the need for elaborate teaching artifacts and curricular structures.

Thirdly, by being visually (and otherwise) immersive, these types of simulations provide a first-hand account of future real life experiences. This gives much more comfort than traditional assessments, specially to the potential employer, because she knows the learner has experienced the job situation even before she has been hired.

Fourthly, simulations lend themselves to new forms of collaborative construction. For example, we built a prototype with Indusgeeks, that showcased how virtual props could be used in SecondLife ( a virtual world platform) so learners could collaborate and perform.

Students building a model of a network

Fifthly, the environment can throw up rich data sets for subsequent analysis. Not only can we track behavior, but also compliance, knowledge, collaboration skills and a host of other competencies. Not only can we do it for one learner, we can do it across learners. We don’t any longer need to build top and bottom performer reports, but we can get insight that is far more fine-grained than that. This allows us to design various means of remediation as well by seeding simulators with specific conditions to train and test learners on.

In summary, simulation based training and simulation based assessments, are both key innovations, that must be broad-based into education. This has the power to transcend traditional curricula and assessment structures if used in a relevant and maximally effective way.

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