Social learning and internet community pioneer Howard Rheingold interviews teaching innovator Dean Shareski.

Here is an excerpt of a blog post written by Rheingold accompanying the video interview, originally published on

It’s ironic that assessment in schools is most often “something adults do to students,” because all humans are highly evolved for learning, and self-assessment is a powerful tool all learners use. Whether you are trying to master a recipe, solve an equation, improve your golf swing, you continually ask yourself questions such as “Have I learned to do what I need to do?” “What did I do wrong?” “How do I improve?” and, most importantly, “How did I learn that?” All, assessment.

Wouldn’t it be great if schools didn’t turn a finely honed learning skill that all students master to some degree (if they can read and write, for example) into a blunt instrument for institutional measurement that clearly hasn’t been working?

Dean Shareski's "Open Letter to My Students" is one of the many inspirations that led to our interview:

"Dear Students,

"Because of institutional requirements and societal norms, I’m required to give you a grade. This grade falls between 0-100 and in some way is intended to inform you and others how well you did in this course. The importance that number is given is appalling. While I do my best to provide you with some outcomes, indicators, rubrics and feedback I still feel my assessment of your learning is fairly trivial or at best a thin slice indicator of what you’ve learned. I realize many would love to believe that the number or grade you get is pure, accurate and will provide future instructors, institutions or employers an indication of your proficiency, understanding or knowledge. If any one of these groups were to ask me about you, I could tell them what I’ve seen and observed. That may have value, the grade, not so much.

"I also recognized that many of you took charge of your own learning, asking to change assignments, finding alternatives and creating meaning for yourselves. That’s what I wanted. While it wasn’t really an “anything goes” approach we were able to negotiate some ideas about what would be valuable for you to pursue inside the broad goals and guidelines of this class.

"At the beginning of the term I told you I had 4 goals for you. I wanted you to see that:

=> Learning is social and connected
=> Learning is personal and self-directed
=> Learning is shared and transparent
=> Learning is rich in content and diversity

"I hope I succeeded in that. Don’t rank me from 0-100 but provide me with feedback and ideas to make me a better teacher.”

In this video, I talk with Shareski about learning, assessment, and instilling meta-learning skills of self-assessment, reflection, and maybe aiming for a modicum of fun.


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