Third National Symposium, day 3: plenary panel: assessment tools for practice skills and final thoughts

by Paul Maharg on 13/06/2016

First session today, David Thomson and me talking about ‘Assessment tools for practice skills’. First up, David, second me.  My slides are up in the usual place, under the Slides tab, and at Slideshare.

David invited me onto this panel, for which I’m most grateful because the topic of the panel is a fascinating one that I’ve tussled with for years.  He talked of a number of valuable assessment issues, eg those emerging from LSSSE for his law school.  He emphasised (rightly so in my opinion) how important the concept of engagement is, not just for learning but for assessment too, with stats from LSSSE to back up his view; how formative assessment can move into summative, the place of rubrics in assisting this.  Student evaluation improved as a result.  After my session, there were a number of questions on sims, and one interesting comment that the commentator didn’t want to see sims replace clinic.  I said neither did I: what I was arguing for was diversity in assessment, and especially rigour in our assessment practices and standards; and that sim assessment could do things that perhaps clinic couldn’t.  The downsides of standardisation was mentioned later; but not the upside, which is that not all clinic is a good or useful experience for students, while sim experiences can be strong learning moments for students.  They can also be useful preparation for clinic.

I did intend to liveblog the final small group sessions following the plenary, but I have to confess that I became involved in so many fascinating conversations with Dan Jackson, Christine Cerniglia Brown and others after the presentation given by David and I that I entirely missed them.  I go to conferences for the conversations too, as we all do, and a few of them may result in future fascinating projects, so that’s as it should be.

Final thoughts about the Symposium, before I leave NY for Scotland in a few hours…  Assessment was the focus which was very timely for all sorts of reasons — indeed when is there ever a time when it isn’t.  Quite a few of the sessions seemed to be variants of rubric discussions.  This is valuable but I found myself wondering at moments whether a symposium was the best forum for that; or perhaps I mean that a symposium plus could be useful.  Eg a symposium to focus on examples and some theory, which would then be captured on a website with OA exemplars of rubrics, all with appropriate CC licences attached, tagged and searchable with comment facilities.  Community of practice is essential, and no one knows that better than a symposium of clinicians, which is what this Symposium largely (but certainly not only) comprised: and community of resources could so easily emerge from it, with the proper infrastructure.  I also felt I wanted to see the bigger picture, see more radical forms of assessment.  Having just spent a very full two days before coming down to the Symposium at NY discussing these and many other legal educational issues with faculty at Osgoode Hall, Toronto, my mind was bursting with the possibilities.

Assessment is one of the most difficult and important things we do as academics.  Assessment of experiential learning is fraught with more difficulty than assessment of conventional knowledge acquisition.  It’s essential, though, and if we want to move ahead with confidence in the field we need to work with others in our sister disciplines to do that.  The take-away session from this Symposium for me was the medical education plenary.  When the outstanding work of medics is presented well, it’s humbling, such an inspiration for us in legal education to do our own lifework better.


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