Some time ago, I was asked to talk about the basics of evaluation to a group of post-graduate students. I spoke about evaluation and how it is a part of our everyday lives; about the roles of evaluation within and outside education and then went on to talk about the differences between testing and evaluation; how we need an instrument to test, but can evaluate using a rule-of-thumb measure, etc. As a part of the discussion on testing, we were looking at differences between subjective and objective type items. Categorizing the various item types under these two headings was very easy, but the group was not very clear about what made an item type subjective or objective.
As is my wont, I created an example and wrote it up on the board. (I believe that an example speaks a thousand words!) The example was a vocabulary item where the student had to find the odd man out. The two items were:
1) a. run b. walk c swim d. jog
2) a. run b. jog c. walk d. hop
I had about 40 odd students in class and asked for a show of hands to find out who had chosen which answer. (As I always do, I kept a poker face and did not give out the answer, to help students decide and to let everyone participate).
About half the class remained silent and passive and did not raise their hands. I counted hands, repeated, asked for answers and got no reply!
Since it was a one-off lecture, I decided not to press for answers and was just going to continue, when the proverbial penny dropped!
I got a research associate who was also attending the lecture to actually run, hop and jog and show the difference… and then, in a shot, all hands went up.
I felt mortified for I had taken something for granted, which I should not have done!
I had assumed that at the post-graduate level, such simple mono syllabic words would be easy to access; in fact it never occurred to me that words like ‘jog’ and ‘hop’ would not be understood!
Although I had been told that a large number of students in this class were from regional medium backgrounds and also from rural areas, I had not paused to think of ‘easy’ and ‘not easy to access’ words…
When everyday life includes running to catch a bus or train, and where one walks a few kilometers to reach the nearest bus stop, the notion of jogging does not exist! It does only along with Nike, Reebok and Puma… and the metros and well-to-do people who have the luxury of going for a jog every morning (and that too by taking out the car and parking it somewhere first!)
Two simple vocabulary items and I learnt that one has to hop into a learner’s mind and jog in his shoes, to problematise learner – centredness and understand what it truly means.
The author is Professor, Department of Testing and Evaluation, EFL University, Hyderabad. She can be reached at email@example.com.