In Groups Vs Networks: The Class Struggle Continues, Stephen Downes makes this statement about assessment:
I want to change the system of assessment in schools because right now we have tests and things like that that are scrupulously fair, particularly distance learning where we outline the objectives the performance metrics and the outcomes and all of that. I want to scrap that system. I want testing to be done by at random by comments from your peers and other people and strangers based on no criteria whatsoever and applied unequally and unfairly.
I found this a little jarring at first. Don’t we want things to be fair, to apply the same rules to everyone?
But applying the rules uniformly to everyone isn’t fair. The rules of baseball require that people run between the bases. Would you ask someone in a wheelchair to get up and run though, just because the rules say so? No, of course not. It’s absurd, not fair.
Most of the time, our educational system is set up with equality held up as the ideal. Everyone should be treated equally; we should hold everyone to the same standards. No exceptions should be made for individuals to bend the rules. In the US, NCLB is a prime example of this: every child is expected to meet the grade level goals, regardless of learning or other disabilities. We start from the assumption that everyone will learn and be assessed equally.
A better ideal for the system would be equity. We can move the emphasis away from applying the rules consistently across the board to giving people what they need as individuals to be successful. We should recognize that people do have obstacles to overcome and provide support for them to get around those obstacles. Being in a wheelchair means someone won’t run, but it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t participate in any sports.
The ALA article Equality and Equity of Access: What’s the Difference? describes equality as “fairness as uniform distribution” and equity as “fairness as justice.”
It occurred to me as I read Stephen’s ideas about assessment that connectivism may be a better way to get to the ideal of equity. It’s better for equity and accessibility when you don’t start from the assumption that everyone will learn and be assessed in the same way. If we start with the assumption that individuals will find their own path in learning, and that our job is to give them lots of opportunities and ways to participate, we’re more likely to help people get past their obstacles.
The CCK08 class is modeling that approach of letting people find their own path and giving them a chance for equity. Everything Stephen talks about with valuing diversity over uniformity reinforces that idea. The 2000 people can figure out what works best for them–lots of time in the Moodle forums or none, multiple blog posts or just reading and lurking, concept maps or word clouds, live sessions or only asynchronous. It’s what allows me to still be a participant in this class even though I knew I’d be out for a few weeks while I moved. I could take that break when I needed and step back in now.
I don’t know whether anyone in the course is visually or hearing impaired, but I can’t see any reason why they couldn’t find ways to actively participate and learn. Not everything is accessible to everyone, but you don’t need to see every image or hear the audio presentations to find value in the course.
I do wonder though–with the course so open and flexible, and with so many people participating, how much diversity is actually represented by the participants of the CCK08 class?