What Is A Constructivist Assessment In Online Learning?

“The absence of the critical-criticism approach … will not lead to a success in the critical-thinking skills.” Share the joy!

As a scientist who has a certain reverence for the ways that intelligence and education evolve, it concerns me that popular institutions are beginning to look as antiquated as I do.

This week, for example, the Seminole College of Florida announced that it will be the first college in the country to offer a Constructivist assessment. This means that students will only get credit in courses that meet certain criteria such as whether or not they master their class. The philosophy is that student aptitude, and not what you learn, is the way to a good education.

The purpose of a Constructivist assessment is not to connect learning to existing concepts and also not to let your test score tell you where you got off. There are plenty of constructivist theorists out there who don’t want you to think of their work as the “authoritarian theory of human development” and a pretty hefty difference between “modelling” and actually teaching.

What seems to be most troubling to me about Seminole College is that this assessment puts a handicap on students who want to go to school in Florida, and there is very little chance that out-of-state students will want to attend in the first place. A good and thorough college education is good for your brain, but the fallout of Florida’s easy-grant regulation that prohibits institutions from raising tuition to pay for more quality funding means that classes that better prepare students for real-world employment are being outsourced to other states. Seminole College’s Arts program has already been moved to Palmetto College in Florida after being able to maintain its unique academic quality for decades in Florida.


I come from a long line of social scientists with the temperament and training to look at all the evidence and draw their own conclusions. In discussing the possibilities for assessing students with Constructivist approaches, I found that if one has the inclination, you can dissect a Constructivist assessment into its little parts and determine how useful, necessary, or extremely likely a Constructivist assessment is.

It was pointed out to me that you could conduct an evaluative Constructivist assessment by asking students: If you could have the same education without paying tuition and could actually be financially independent as a result, would you take the course and get a college degree? Not just because you are interested in education, but because the motivation to increase your wealth as an adult is likely much the same as to get a first degree.

Another way to assess students is simply to ask them questions such as what they believe in or what they want for the future. If they are focused on getting a great education and taking a required course, they will likely have a Developed-type view of education. To get the Constructivist view of education, they will need to develop a Rising-type view of learning. This is not to say that a passing developmentally-appropriate Test of Developmental Thought wouldn’t be helpful. One thing that was prominent in recent social science is the Idea of Education as a Conversation— specifically, The Case for Education: Implications for Governance and the Future of American Higher Education— written by Robert Prouty and Marilynn Marchione with political science teacher Walter Schneck. Prouty and Marchione carefully wrote the study from the point of view of students who don’t enjoy using the traditional education model for how they think education should go. Students who think that the education system needs to change aren’t cherry-picking opinions, but are voluntarily contributing their opinion to the study.

Questions can be more informative than test data. (Example: What would the real purpose of higher education be?) Constructivist assessment can really only be instructive if it is accompanied by an evaluation of what the Constructivist views of educational efficacy are like.

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