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Testing times

“Why come and study at Oak Hill? Well, just take a look at our assessments.” I’ve never heard anyone make this argument before, and I know why. Essays, exams, tests and the like - they can all too easily feel like a necessary evil, like the washing up and clearing away that lurks and needs to be done after a good feast or party. But at Oak Hill we've been quietly plotting and planning to make our assessments themselves a thing to sing about, and one of the reasons to come to College.

First, it's worth saying that there is nothing wrong with a well-designed essay or exam (more on that in next post).  But as we've been working towards our new undergraduate degree programme, we've been asking how every assessment can positively form the kind of wise, godly, and skilled servants we want to see developed.

As an example of this careful and deliberate shaping, we're introducing blogging as a means of assessment on some of our modules. As they take a course, students will write a series of posts, capturing what they’ve learned and receiving feedback from tutors and other students along the way. It’s a way of making sure that feedback can support learning more immediately. And it’s a way of cultivating good habits for ministry: listening to others, integrating their insights, and working in a more collaborative way.

Second, we are committed to assessments that begin to reach out to people who don't care about College assessments. In more and more of our modules, you'll see a need to apply learning to a non-specialist audience. To move the learning of the College day into the everyday of wider life. This might sound easier than being asked to provide a complex or technical answer to a theological issue, but landing theological learning on the runway of ordinary life, with its shifts and turns and other competing interests, is actually a highly-skilled ask. It is also a test of whether one has really understood the thing at all.

This leads to a third compelling idea that is driving our assessments. Whether they're traditional or innovative, we are working hard at assessments that help students bring the gospel to bear in life's complex, painful, often ambiguous circumstances and relationships. Those unfolding realities shape us all as learners on the move. We do not tick off doctrines or master books of the Bible, but we grow in wisdom, equipped to bring out treasures old and new from the storehouses of God's wisdom in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Matthew 13:52 informs this vision, and it motivates us to provide supportive, growth-orientated and helpful feedback to each of our learners. Feedback (and help ahead of assessments) is working towards deep learning lived out in the places and among the people where the minister doesn't know everything, but has learnt to use faithful learning to model, teach and lead in faithful discipleship.

So, assessments: we're not embarrassed about them! Planned carefully, they can aim at faithful growth, wise pruning, and mature understanding, serving students and their churches long after they have left Oak Hill.


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