We recently announced that the Assessment Research Centre at the University of Melbourne had posted a Reduction to Practice Challenge seeking the development of a software module to assess collaborative problem solving skills in schools. We asked Professor Patrick Griffin from the University of Melbourne to talk to us about this Challenge, Educational GUI for Collaborative Problem Solving. Patrick is the Executive Director of the ATC21S project.
Hello Patrick. Thanks for talking to us about your Challenge. The Assessment & Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) is an international project coordinated by the Assessment Research Centre at the University. Can you tell us a bit more about this project and what it hopes to accomplish?
In our information-rich world, students will need not just competence in math, science and reading, but in a number of other skills that include new ways of learning with technology, new ways to solve problems, and new ways to communicate using social media. The world of education has not even begun to explore the possibilities of these new 21st-century skills. So the ATC21S project has taken on the task of developing new ways of assessing collaborative problem-solving and learning through digital networks. In doing so, we are attempting to shift the direction of assessment and teaching towards a model that is more suitable to the measurement and development of skills that people will need in the 21st century.
What led you to post this Challenge on the InnoCentive web site?
The ATC21S project is a complex project with many developmental activities. The crowdsourcing process is one of the ways we are attempting to identify a common platform and delivery system that will enable us to link many of the assessment modules being developed by the project into a single platform. I guess that since we tout collaborative problem solving as an important 21st Century skill, it is natural for us to turn to crowdsourcing ourselves to help us find solutions.
As you see it, what is so different about skills needed for success in the 21st Century compared with skills that students have needed in the past?
The major difference is the change in the skills base needed in new and emerging occupations. Many of the occupations of the 20th century have disappeared or have been altered completely because of technology. New occupations that involve reasoning, collaboration, critical and creative thinking and the capacity to learn while solving problems through the medium of technology will become increasingly important. People will need to be able to use technology for communication and collaborative learning; the need to become literate in technology and its use; in a world where information is exploding at a rate unprecedented in history they will need to be critical evaluators of information, its relevance, value and credibility. They will need to learn to be responsible citizens of a digital society which is becoming increasingly global rather than local. Along with all of these changes new responsibilities and ways of living are merging. All of these need a new set of skills without abandoning those of the previous century that are still considered relevant, valuable and credible to the 21st-century.
Can you tell us why it is so crucial to measure these skills, and what implications this might hold for our educational systems, curricula and approaches?
There are two basic reasons for using assessment to drive this change. Industry and commerce have for many years argued that you cannot improve the things you don't measure. So, too, in education we can only identify improvement and change by using measurements. The second reason is based on the belief that assessment can in fact drive change in curriculum and in teaching. However, three things need to change in sync. We need to have a way of changing the curriculum, what teachers teach, and how they teach. For instance, in order to emphasise the importance of collaborative learning and problem-solving we need teachers to work in collaborative groups targeting their instruction and their assessment to get the maximum amount of information possible for each student. In order to make change in the curriculum it is necessary for governments to incorporate 21st-century skills in the outcome expectations for every student. For all these things to happen together, measurement of the skills is critical. But the measurement has to be accurate, and so the ATC21S project focuses on accurate and sustainable ways of developing assessments, and calibrating them to ensure that accurate information can be obtained, and in turn inform students, teachers, schools and systems of education or governments.
Once you’ve selected the winning submission, can you tell us about your plans and expectations regarding implementation of the solution?
One of the things that we have to do immediately is to have our own programmers check the compatibility of the platform that is developed as a result of the competition, with other modules being developed by the project. While this is not a criterion to the winning package, it is of importance to the project. We will be announcing the successful entry and perhaps commissioning the winner with further work to make adjustments that are suitable for incorporating all the assessment modules.
Thanks and good luck with your Challenge.