The flaws of stealth assessment

Stealth assessment is the smart and unobtrusive assessment of a student’s learning during serious game play. This smart term was introduced a few years ago and named after the famous and notorious stealth bomber, which is invisible on radar. Stealth assessment uses the player´s history of actions and decisions in the game for evaluating progress. Because these player data are available anyway for calculating the appropriate game responses, stealth assessment can be done without interrupting the game narrative, e.g. no intermediate tests, quizzes or questionnaires are needed. Many researchers advocate stealth assessment because doesn’t interrupt the player’s state of cognitive flow, which is regarded highly beneficial for learning: such cognitive flow is characterised by high engrossment  in  and  concentration  on  a  task, the loss of self-consciousness and an altered sense of time: indeed players tend to be dragged along with the game. Indeed, now students can continue their involvement in the game challenges and continue their missions without bothering about tests and other negative things that are associated with learning. Some people even say: without being aware of being tested all the time.

The need for transparancy
However, one of the very first principles of teaching is that we should be transparant to our students about how they are monitored and assessed. Students are entitled to know what data we’re tracking and how these are used for the assessments, even in the case of formative assessments. We know that exactly the type of assessment determines how people learn: this phenomenon is known as the backwash-effect, or even simpler, “the tail wags the dog” referring to the end determining the beginning. Now that a multitude of personal data can be captured unobtrusively through a variety of sensors and web services, the issue becomes more and more urgent. After the disclosure of the NSA files by Edward Snowdon stealth assessment may even have become suspect. I would say this is not quite correct, because you could apply stealth assessment and still be transparant about it: the player should always be informed about the details. It is a fair statement to say that all assessment criteria and procedures should be openly available to the student beforehand. Not tricks, no hidden agendas. So, unless stealth assessment is sneaky, obscured assessment, it can be a valuable approach to serious gaming.

The need for metacognitive development
But there is yet another pedagogical principle: cognitive flow, being highly involved in a game task, a problem or challenge, may help you to cognitively master the issue at hand, but it is likely to neglect the learning at a metacognitive level. Quite some studies on reflection and metacognition have indicated that stepping back for a while and reconsidering and evaluating the things done so far is a powerful way for enhancing one´s insights and understandings. The frequent interplay between the level of learning and the level of metalearning is an important mechanism for becoming a self-conscious, autonomous, responsible and self-directed learner. Stealth assessment can be a magnificent way to preserve cognitive flow and foster the process of learning. But in many cases it were recommendable that players step back from their monomaniacal game challenges, interrupt their state of cognitive flow and consolidate their experiences at a metacognitive level. I suppose this might dramatically raise the serious games’ effectiveness for learning.

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