So here’s an interesting question – are exam grades good at (indeed, are they aimed at) establishing the epistemic virtue of the student? Having piqued your interest, I’m afraid I can only offer some thoughts on it here – but I’d welcome your thoughts (definitive answers if you have any!) too.
Clearly exams judge other things too – most notably, subject content knowledge – and of course there are many sorts of exam, but whether we can distinguish those which do or do not purport to and succeed in assessing epistemic virtue versus those which reject either one or both is interesting.
This is in part an interesting question because epistemic virtue probably cuts through some of the skills based assessment criticism sometimes heard, or at least offers another take on why such critiques might be strong/weak. For example, being able to write well probably is a rather important skill for an epistemic agent – thus, simple knowledge of the facts and their rote repetition is not a signal of a virtuous epistemic agent. On the other hand, the ability to dot every i and cross every t might not be particularly important – as long as one can give and receive (or gve and receve indeed) reasons, such abilities might hold some value, but weighting such actions over other sorts seems perverse.
Presumably a facet of this consideration will also relate to:
- a belief that the agent has come about the knowledge by one or both of a reliable route, and a route for which they are creditworthy (responsible) (if both, this is a combination of two models of epistemic virtue…). This isn’t just about believing that the information relayed by the student is true, and justified – although those are important – it’s knowing that the student is in a sense responsible for it.
This raises an interesting concern – if we wish students to care about, to be engaged in their learning (beyond the textbook knowledge), then setting an end of term exam which is solely based on a multiple choice test of factual recall from a textbook is likely to be a poor means to assess, and encourage, epistemic virtue of any kind. This in a sense is a return to my MA – just what are the knowledge requirements we place on students in particular assessment regimes, how can we build a regime to assess those epistemic qualities we most value, and how would this be different?
Some types of essay question (but not in exam conditions) might well address this; PBL; etc. My oft given example of the Danish assessment system – which allows the use of the internet in exams – is another interesting case; certainly in this case the students are expected to (virtuously) not access communication sites, are they also expected to display more epistemic virtue? Could these exams be improved further, and if so, how?
There’s also an interesting question raised regarding the nature of epistemic behaviours (from asking questions, to giving reasons) and whether or not we – context free and abstracted – are in a position to ‘assess’ these in any given context.
Of course, one means to assess some aspects of epistemic virtue – as a normatively valued property of an agent – would be to look at dynamic assessments as opposed to summative grades. If we value the giving and receiving of reasons, then the use of evidence hubs which make explicit issues, claims about those issues, evidence for the claims, and the relationship of all of these to key people (and ideas you’re using of fellow users) – might be quite important. Wiki writing may be similar – with links between articles, computable reputation based on partial edit longevity, engagement on talk pages, need to source information, etc. But here again, is it appropriate to use – for example – a reputation based system for (on?) students? (I discuss WikiTrust and the feedback tool more here)