Untapped Talent - Day One - Better Testing and Data Can Accelerate Creativity

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Dec 13, 2015
by Louise Hallman
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Untapped Talent - Day One - Better Testing and Data Can Accelerate Creativity

Chair of Untapped Talent session shares his hopes for big data in education on the opening day Session Chair Michael Nettles opens Session 558

Can better testing and data accelerate creativity in learning and societies? “Yes it can!” was the resounding answer from session chair, Michael Nettles at the opening session of the Salzburg Global Seminar program on Untapped Talent (December 12 to 17).

As the Senior Vice President of ETS – best known for its design, administration and scoring of assessments like the GRE and TOEFL – it is unsurprising that Nettles is an advocate for better testing, but it is the potential for big data that most excites him at this week’s session – the sixth that Salzburg Global and ETS have partnered on together. 

Big data is opening up numerous, well-paying job opportunities in the US across diverse sectors, from commerce to medicine to education – but these openings are unlikely to be filled. 

“The fact is, we do not yet have the capabilities, or even the know-how, required to achieve our vision for all these data,” lamented Nettles in his opening speech.

“We have barely begun training the people to do the work. In the United States, there are more than half a million unfilled jobs in the IT sector... 

By 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings, but that our (US) universities are unlikely to produce enough qualified graduates to fill even 30 percent of them,” he added.

Why is this? And how can better assessments – and data usage – fill this talent gap?

One way in which data can help is by feeding algorithms that can “replace race-, class- and culture-based criteria with demographically blind data-based criteria that remove subjective human evaluators,” says Nettles. This would help the tech sector become more diverse and end the perception that you have to be white, male and well-connected to get ahead in the industry.

New forms of assessment, such as games, can help identify valuable STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills in those who typically struggle in current tests. By generating “fine-grained data” – such as “document edits, gaming collaborations, responses on intelligent tutoring systems, even eye and body movements recorded by body sensors” – which is then immediately available for review, “the learning process itself can become the best source of evidence of learning, replacing the test,” remarked Nettles.

This could have potentially huge advantages for those students who currently underperform in traditional testing environments, enabling their so-far “untapped talent” to be fully realized. There would also, of course, be much larger implications for test designers, administrators and teachers. Who would collect this data? As Nettles’ colleague Catherine Millett pointed out in her opening remarks, teachers often have little knowledge or care to collect such data – especially if it gets in the way of simply teaching. “How do we identify the ‘right’ big data?” she asked. 

“Every keystroke on a computer can be captured, cataloged, analyzed, and used. Whether it should be captured, cataloged, analyzed and used is a different, but equally urgent, question,” added Nettles.  

Further consideration also needs to be taken of the cost of employing such tech solutions; socioeconomic gaps could be widened rather than narrowed.

“Entrusting so much of our education, careers and personal lives to algorithms and analytics also runs the risk of replacing our humanness with a blind faith in data processes,” warned Nettles.

Over the course of the next four days, over 40 experts in pedagogy, assessment and data analysis will consider the innovations and potential pitfalls of new forms of assessment of so-called “21st century skills” – communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. Alongside ETS, partners on the session include the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The session is also being held in association with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).

Speaking on behalf of the IDB and its delegation from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay and the US, Soledad Bos, Education Senior Specialist with the IDB, said she hopes to share the innovations in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as learn from other regions. Nora Newcombe, a psychology professor at Temple University whose work is funded by the NSF, encouraged participants to consider the “science of learning” and to avoid making assumptions about how innate creativity is and how simply it can be assessed. 

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The Salzburg Global program Untapped Talent: Can Better Testing and Data Accelerate Creativity in Learning and Societies? is being hosted in collaboration with the Educational Testing Service (ETS)the National Science Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank, and in association with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/558.