Developing IT skills using SAP via Formative assessment
In recent years governments especially in the western world have expressed an interest in moving away from using standardised summative tests for evaluating students in exams. A summative test is best defined as a educational benchmark whereby students are set a fixed curricula and testing regime.
One of the reasons put forward for this interest has been that summative testing, whilst excellent for examining skills for those subjects that require memory skills, is less effective for evaluating skills in subjects where an ability to put skills into practice is just as important. In the medical world this has long been a point of view with summative testing around core medical concepts, drugs, techniques and so on being combined with internships and other means of evaluating how effectively students put skills into practice
One key weakness for summative assessment
Summative testing also has one key weakness which is that feedback is completely one way. Often tests are conducted at the end of courses and so only if courses have been designed with a good mix of coursework or mock exams is the student able to reflect on their knowledge and skill level and adjust their learning to compensate. This in turn also can isolate the student from their learning experience - feeling they have no role to play in their own development or that they are only a ‘success' if they achieve an arbitrary mark or grade in an exam that may little to do with the skills necessary to succeed in their chosen field.
The background to formative assessment
Formative assessment has been viewed as a means to bridge the gap between structured, guided learning and self-motivated learning that requires an input from the student not only into learning materials but into the whole process of learning itself. And it is my conjecture that using the tools within the University Alliance program is a major mechanism to achieving this.
Formative assessment has been put forward as a pedagogical philosophy since the late 1960s when commentators noted that many people who had a reduced access to a university education nonetheless had undergone highly advanced processes of learning through apprenticeships and other less structured educational processes. To incorporate some elements of formative learning into university education the route typically involved multiple assessments intended not to grade the student but to provide a diagnosis (or prognosis) of the student's level of attainment.
Crucially the student was able to find out where their own skills were lacking and where their strengths were whilst simultaneously (ideally) a lecturer / teacher would be able to evaluate the teaching mechanism to see what worked and what didn't. The general observation made of formative assessment is that it is an aid to discovery and learning rather than an end result in itself.
SAP enables Professors to pursue a formative assessment strategy
This is where the use of advanced technical systems such as SAP are potentially highly valuable. The typical class set-up might have a lecture on an aspect of management information systems, operations management or general business analysis and strategy. The material within this lecture would be evaluated by examinations at the end of the course in a summative fashion to provide the student with a route to attaining a degree.
However it is quite difficult for a student to actually gain access to a working management information system to evaluate their own understanding of the material that they will have just learnt. It would be almost impossible for a student to process that information a reflective manner and begin to formulate their own ideas and conclusions about their understanding of the subject. Without access to such a system the student literally has to a) take the lecturer's or course material's word for it and b) only be able to form an understanding based on hypothetical or ‘virtual' examples.
Using SAP tools enables students to reflect and understand
Using the SAP tools offers an opportunity for students to reflect on their understanding not only of the taught materials (i.e. is this correct or is there an example I can study) but also on the system itself i.e. to reach their own understanding and conclusions about the tools. It also provides lecturers with an additional tool outside of the summative examination structure to evaluate student progress and understanding.
Formative assessments occur whilst content is being delivered and immediately afterwards and are intended to continue during the entire process of learning. There is not an SAP exam (except for TERP10) but the lecturer can clearly evaluate from face to face contact which students are struggling and which are grasping immediately the material.
A final observation is that formative assessments often include an initial overview assessment and a final objective assessment to see whether the student has understood the materials and has progressed in their understanding of the topic. In the use of SAP as a tool this can be easily accomplished by assessing the real world systems knowledge of SAP as a tool prior to undertaking the course and then generating feedback related to the student experience.
Often the best student feedback is an analysis of the system using elements of subjects that a student has picked up in lectures that they can now relate back to their physical use of SAP and use that experience to inform their exams rather than ‘passing' SAP being an aim in its own right. In this case Terence Crooks (1988) noted that teachers can modify or ameliorate the use of the system in such a way that students gain not only a better understanding of the system itself but how it relates back to their structured learning.