Test As We Work

Ad-SocratesWhen Socrates sat around with his students discussing the issues of the world, they didn’t have laptops or cell phones, piles of books or even papers.  If they did have tablets, they certainly didn’t look like they do today! The students really needed to pay attention and remember what was talked about.  Even later, stories and histories were passed on from person to person.  Carpenters, stone masons, cobblers passed along their skills by demonstrating their techniques.

Now students sit at desks or tables in classrooms and watch Power Point pictures, often covered with words.  They have to be able to read and understand sentence structure.  And then there is the testing.  I just finished teaching a class on heating and distribution systems.  One of the questions on one of the daily tests was:

Steady State Efficiency is measured with a digital gas analyzer in undiluted flue gases.  True or False. 

What is important here?  The students need to know what “Steady State Efficiency” is.  Steady State Efficiency is a measurement of the efficiency of the appliance when it has reached steady state combustion after about five minutes of operation.  It is a combination of the temperature of the flue gases relative to the temperature in the combustion appliance zone (CAZ) and the Oxygen in the flue gases.  That’s an important part of the process.  And they need to know how to measure it.  They also need to know where to measure it.  Do they measure it in “undiluted flue gases”?  That would mean that the flue gases were not diluted with extra oxygen.  So it would seem that the answer to the question should be “True”.

But whoever wrote the question snuck the word “gas” in there in front of analyzer.  There are a lot of tools that we use in the field – manometers, thermometers, anemometers, gas leak detectors, and combustion analyzers.  We call them different things – sniffers, Balometers, pressure gauges, and maybe gas analyzers.  If you know what tool to use, how critically important is it to have a precise lexicon of names?  Do we need another Standard to define names?  How critically important is it to use the same color hoses on your manometer for each test?  Would it be wrong to say: “The red hose should be connected to the Reference Tap on Channel A of the manometer in order to reference the outside.”?  Certainly not if you’re using a Retrotec manometer.  And in fact if you search for “gas” analyzer on Google, it will reference all sorts of combustion analyzers.

And that’s what this question essentially gets down to.  What the writer was looking for was an answer of “False” because it is not a gas analyzer it is a combustion analyzer.  I was so perplexed by this question that I sent it out to several people who teach and write this stuff every day and they both answered “True”.  So are we testing people on language or on the ability to get the job done?  Are these multiple choice exams really a good test of someone who spends the day crawling under the bellies of mobile homes or in the hot, dark recesses of attics to seal duct work?  Over and over again in these classes I hear the comment, “This class could be improved with more hands-on time.”  We really need to develop a better way to test and train and mentor, with a more comprehensive apprenticeship program.  It would be preferable for a proctor or mentor spend an extended time with a candidate and finally say, “Yes.  This person knows what they are doing.  I would let them test the systems in my house.  My wife and children would be safe living there when he or she had completed testing.”

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One Response to “Test As We Work”

  1. Matt Redmond Says:

    Nicely written Paul. I agree that multi choice tests are a poor choice to determine competency. Test anxiety is a big problem with many field personnel I test. I am increasingly leaning towards “hands on” evaluations for technical competence. Basically “just show me what you do” and I grade them.

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