Episode 630: The Call and Response of Problem and Solution

On the Overthink it Podcast, we tackle tests, assessments, and contests: person, woman, man, camera, TV.

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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee and Matthew Wrather gather to overthink tests, assessments, assignments, quizzes, games, sports, and instruments musical and cognitive. The implications are sinister in proportion to the stakes.

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7 Comments on “Episode 630: The Call and Response of Problem and Solution”

  1. Margo #

    This is a fraught topic. The world is full of smart, capable people who for one reason or another don’t “Test Well”. Not that these folks don’t react well under pressure, they just aren’t good at some type of tests. How many great potential doctors, lawyers, civil servents, teachers and others have we lost because of how test results are one of the few metrics of how potential is measured?


  2. John C Member #

    One kind of test that was missed in the taxonomy, even though it’s the recognized picture of an elephant in the room, is the damage assessment or what engineers used to call a “lamp test,” as in running current down all the wires and check the indicator lights to make sure there aren’t any broken connections. Hence a man, a camera, a television, a plan, Panama or something.

    When Trump brags about being “cognitively there,” he accidentally hits the nail on its ableist head: The test is only making sure that the patient doesn’t need to be closely monitored by live-in help to protect him from himself. It only cares if he’s “there,” no matter how many “extra points” he gets.

    Of course, there’s also my favorite test, the minimum-requirement “are you sure this has been kept up to date” tests, like harassment training that tends to be unclear whether it’s anti- or pro-harassment. The last one of those I needed to take marked me wrong because the hypothetical woman who was badgered for weeks by her manager for a date was not being harassed, because maybe she wanted the attention! Oh, the illustrative video clips also went full-on Yellow Peril, casting their Asian actors as the offenders in almost every case…except the one where they were excusing his behavior. I was also required to “cheat” my way through the test, mind you, because the web-based proctoring wasn’t working when I tried it, so I needed to patch the forward and back buttons, giving me the ability to re-answer questions. The less said about that whole experience, the better, really…

    To the point of how many childhoods we need to ruin to get flying cars and grand musicals, my observation has been–partly from just being in programming, teaching graduate courses, and going to high school with a pop star who everybody would recognize and an Olympic athlete–that the key is less structure than a love of the field that extends to a willingness to do the boring parts. In that sense, I feel like structure is largely the “you might like it, if you actually tried it” approach to parenting. If it doesn’t catch, then it’s probably best to walk away, even if the student is great.

    When I was adjunct-teaching, I used to try to disrupt the idea that homework and tests were part of a continuum of escalating stakes. Generally, my homework assignments were small practical tasks to reinforce the ideas that tend to be easier to learn by doing, whereas the tests were explanations of how things worked and large design problems to make sure the students understood the course material well enough to put it together and take it a step further.

    It was interesting to see certain students take to it–often, students who had been struggling in other classes–while others were outright angry that they weren’t being graded on right-or-wrong factual recall in a graduate course. I eventually “compromised” and added a fact-based bonus question that never had anything to do with the course.

    I should probably do something with all that course material. It’s probably useful to somebody…


    • John C Member #

      Yeesh! Didn’t realize I wrote quite that much, there…


      • Three Act Destructure #

        I wouldn’t worry about it. If this comment section isn’t the place for essays then I’m not sure which one is.


  3. Mike O #

    If you pass a test through cheating, and are only found out after the fact, then you should be commended. After all, tests are to see how you’d fair in real world situations. So who cares how you came to success? The goal is to pass the finish line.
    Now, the issue everyone sees is something like “I don’t want a doctor who cheated.” Yes, but the issue here is that the TESTING the doctor had to go through didn’t reflect real world conditions, and so wasn’t a good test to begin with. If the end result is a patient with a perfectly working heart, who cares if they “cheated”.


    • Three Act Destructure #

      So you’re cool with people using affirmative action to beat white kids with the same test results?


      • Mike O #

        Friend, I’ll do you one better. How about a white kid in blackface claiming to be transracial to beat out the other black kids who are beating out the other white kids.

        Testers should also be the ones being tested.


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