Tick-Box Learning

Tick-Box Learning

Jesse Martin 23/07/2018 6

Education is (or should be) about learning. However, as we became fully immersed in the modern accountancy or administrative mode of education, everything in education must be accounted for and accountability has become a primary concern for teachers.

Education does cost money and when taxes are used to pay for education, we demand some form of accountability. However, we have gone overboard. Education has become enslaved by bean counters.

Since the advent of ubiquitous computing, there has been a relentless push for the metrification of education. Give us some numbers that we can compare to see how well learning is going on. This is the basis for standardized testing. This is the reason for endless performance reviews. Finer grained assessments. Micromanaging learning units. All things that can be measured.

This has become standard in higher education, even though there is not the push for the same level of accountability than there is in the public school system. Anything that can be measured is measured.

In HE, because of the sheer amount of content that teachers have yoked themselves to, everything that is learned is unitized and tick-boxed. Multiple-choice tests (and other simple answer tests) are the ultimate tick-box exercise. Measure the content domain by randomly selecting micro-learning concepts for measurement. However, this does not excuse the other types of assessments as tick-box exercises. Whether it is a long essay or an essay exam, the more subjective type of assessment is still a tick-box exercise. Does the student tick all the right boxes with his or her answer? That is even how academics talk about these kinds of assignments.

Does the student know the right answer(s) to give? Not only that, we grade the answers in the same way that a factory (grade ‘A’ quality steel) or meat packing plant grades (grade ‘A’ quality beef) grades their products.

Tick-box learning. Has the student demonstrated that they know X? How well do they know X? Do they know that there is a controversy in the field of study? Do they know the details of the controversy? Can they successfully argue (recite) either side of the controversy?

All we have are hoops to jump through to demonstrate that the students have memorized stuff (arguments, nuances, procedures…) we already know. Hoops that can be quantified and recorded to ensure proper accountability.

Tick-box learning. Not a great system for the massive societal transformation we find ourselves in. 

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  • Christian Hassler

    One way of improving learning is not trying too hard focusing on something you wish to understand. If it is important to you, then you'll grasp it correctly. Make sure your mind is not preoccupied with tick box learning.

  • Robert McEwan

    We should teach students new ways of learning things. By being curious and applying yourself everyday to something you want to learn, you will become a better learner.

  • Alex Marshall

    I think we should try to understand the things that we don’t understand multiple times before giving up saying I don’t understand it.

  • Bruce McGachan

    Grasping skills differ from one person to another. Every individual has his own method of perceiving things.

  • Kevin Carson

    There are many ways to prepare for a test or to do an assignment. Good study habits are a must for anyone who wishes to achieve great success in their courses.

  • Jesse Gauthier

    Thought provoking piece.

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Jesse Martin

Higher Education Expert

Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.


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