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Assessment dilemmas when “21st century” learning approaches shift students into unfamiliar terrain

Chris Joyce and Rosemary Hipkins

Being a “question asker” is an unfamiliar role to many students yet within a 21st century learning framework this is a competency they need to develop. In traditional assessment events students are primed to be “question answerers”, a role that is both familiar and predictable to all concerned. Asking students to develop questions or identify appropriate questions to investigate is unsettling and, for many students, an unpractised skill. These tensions can be illustrated in science education where the traditional focus on students having scientific knowledge is shifting to also include students using their science knowledge to address science-related issues of relevance to their lives and to contemporary society more generally. These new types of competency demand both critical and creative thinking, exercised within the constraints of a specific mix of conceptual and contextual knowledge and experience. As in so many walks of life, success may depend on knowing the most productive types of questions to ask, and being able to frame these within the demands of the task and knowledge context. This paper will illustrate what can happen when items constructed for differing assessment purposes require students to respond to questions about questions, and discuss ways to use these research findings to help teachers support students to become better at question asking.

Paper presented at the 35th Annual Conference International Association for Educational Assessment Brisbane, Australia, 13-18 September 2009.

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