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Why Collaborative Assessment will be King

The last piece in the 21st century skills puzzle

School curricula of the past have focused on classic disciplines; algebra, history, chemistry, geography. While these have merit, there is a change in the education zeitgeist; a focus on 21st century skills.

In 2012, a study called ATC21S identified 10 skills that people will need to master to be successful in today’s world.


The global arms race begins…

These skills were not traditionally a focus in schools, however that is changing. Curricula and learning content are already addressing these areas.


No-one can deny Singapore’s claim to being a world leader in education. Preceding the ATC21S study bytwo years, they released a 21st century competencies framework, which had a renewed focus on collaboration and communication. In 2015, they topped the PISA rankings as the overall top ranked country in maths and science for 15 year olds. Combined with innovative initiatives such as migrating their national high-stakes exams to digital online assessment — one of the first in the world to do so — Singapore education is only going from strength to strength. Look for them to incorporate collaborative assessment in the future.


The Australian curriculum has pivoted to head in this direction too. The skills have been rebranded 21st century general capabilities. As explained in thisreport, the reason was to highlight the fact that ‘the skills are not unique to the 21st century’, however are increasingly important to it.

From the Australian Curriculum website: “ The general capabilities play a significant role in the Australian Curriculum in equipping young Australians to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century.”



E-Learning companies are also aligning to this shift in mindset.CrossKnowledge & Janison are building a host of content focused on leadership, management and 21st century skills. Collaborating with thought leaders from faculties such as Harvard, Cambridge, Wharton, London & Paris, content is designed give students and professionals the edge in a competitive digital world.

Wait, how do we assess 21st century skills?

While new learning content is being taught in schools and organisations, another problem has arisen. How do we test how well students are working in a team, or digitally communicating ? Just as traditional subjects are being replaced, so must their assessment methods. The pencil & multiple-choice worksheet is dead.

The future of 21st century skills education lies in digital collaborative assessment.

Want proof? PISA is already ranking your children’s 21st century skills.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been a global standard in benchmarking school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading. It also publishes a global leaderboard that can make or break education ministers careers, as they jostle to improve their countries rankings. In 2012, PISA identified the momentum towards 21st century skills, and set out to measure collaboration digitally in 2015. They identified the following three key collaborative assessment problem types.

 Key collaborative assessment problem types

Consensus building — the group needs to make a decision after considering the views, opinions, and arguments of different members. Faster isn’t always better here; the quality of the decision may be threatened by ‘group think’ — swift agreement among members without considering the complexities of the problem.

Jigsaw problems — this is a method to insure interdependence among problem-solvers, which is a condition to measure collaboration. Each group member has different information or skills. The group needs to pool the information and recruit each other’s skills in order to achieve the group goal. The group goal cannot be achieved by any one member alone. One social loafer who does nothing can jeopardise the achievement of the group goal.

Negotiations — Group members have different amounts of information and different personal goals. Through negotiation, select information can be passed so that there can be mutual win-win optimisation, which satisfies overall group goals.

The PISA study notes that additional types of collaborative problem solving (CPS) tasks can be appropriate, provided they are time-constrained collaborative activities requiring ground rules for taking actions, as well as the establishment and maintenance of both shared understandings and team organisation. You can download the full draft collaboration assessment framework report here.

Australia, Ireland & Sweden unite!

Extending on the ATC21S findings, the Collaborative Assessment Alliance was formed. The goal was to quantify to what extent 21st century skills such as collaboration and communication could be assessed digitally. This was done by collaborative problem solving tasks, conducting school trials, psychometrically analysing results and collaborating on findings. The group was made up of:

  • Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)
  • Department of Education NSW Australia (DOE)
  • National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA)
  • Swedish Authority on Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR)
  • Janison (EdTech company)

The findings of this group are yet to be published, however early results are fascinating. School trials with just over 2000 participating students produced a staggering million rows of data. Every click, action, word, response and more was being logged in the background. If you are fond of playing with big data, this is the area is for you. Can you imagine the volume when delivered at a national level?

Future state

So, what does it all mean? Leading countries are already pushing towards new 21st century curricula, and the adoption by PISA of collaborative testing will be a rocket-boost. Educators that stand still are now at risk of falling behind the world pack; surely a career-limiting move.

Those who can master collaborative assessment will become education royalty. Their graduates will be better equipped with tangible, real world skills to lead us into the future. Are you going to be part of the new Kingdom?

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Published by

Stuart Dalrymple

Business Development Manager, Certified Scrum Master. My goal is to help organisations realise the benefits of online exams.

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