College Degree, No Class Time Required: Just Religious Faith in Tests

The announcement from U. Wisconsin (that they’ll test students to get a degree, rather than requiring any coursework at all) is showing enormous and unsupported (almost religious) faith in our ability to construct tests, especially online tests. Building reliable and valid assessments is part of my research, and it’s really hard. Can I come up with assessments that are at least as good as having 32 (roughly) teachers assess you over a four year period? I already know that there is a lot that I don’t know how to assess in computing education (because we’ve tried and failed), e.g., the kinds of process knowledge that one gains in software engineering and senior design classes. I’m sure that there are many assessment experts who are far better than me, so certainly, someone else could do what I could not. Since I’m also a consumer of others’ assessments, I don’t see high-quality assessments (e.g., I trust them, they’ve been shown to be reliable and valid) that cover everything that we want students to learn. So, no, I do not believe currently that we can build tests to assess an entire computer science undergraduate degree. To create programs like what Wisconsin proposes is having unsupported faith that new assessments will miraculously appear. (“Miraculous” because as far as I can tell, no funding is going into building new assessments, and that’s pretty expensive to do well!)

Now, educators in Wisconsin are offering a possible solution by decoupling the learning part of education from student assessment and degree-granting.Wisconsin officials tout the UW Flexible Option as the first to offer multiple, competency-based bachelor’s degrees from a public university system. Officials encourage students to complete their education independently through online courses, which have grown in popularity through efforts by companies such as Coursera, edX and Udacity.

Deepa Singh
Business Developer
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