Sunday, April 24, 2011

Technology Powered Assessment

I think one of the more complex aspects a teacher has to wrestle with is assessment and what is worth knowing or what should be understood.  There are many writers, speakers, workshops, etc. on how student learning should be assessed for learning, of learning, how to gather evidence, how to inform teaching, etc.  I’m not a teacher but if I was, I would find that my job has become much more difficult with all the expectations to backward design my lessons, cover an ever broadening curriculum, give my students continuous feedback, and then somehow differentiate learning to meet the abilities, readiness, preferences, and needs of my students.  Not only am I expected to undertake assessment of learning but now I have to make sure to assess for learning. Add to this expectations to integrate and use technology for teaching, to enable my students to use technology for their learning, to give them more control over their learning, and learn the new math curriculum…  It all seems rather exhausting to me. 

The Canadian province of Alberta produced a nice graphic to capture a lot of this expectation and process – it looks quite involved.  How can we better leverage technology to make the assessment process far simpler for teachers and more accessible to students?

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Some simple tools can help without a lot of work.  This student shares how a simple tool gives her immediate feedback as she studies for a unit test.  Previously it would take days to get the feedback from her teacher…

Assessment for Learning–immediate feedback

What if teachers had tools to easily create embedded assessments for digital learning activities and knowledge acquisition?  I was recently going through some of the options Pearson Education provides – they look pretty powerful but the challenge is the complexity and cost that often comes with things like “Learning Management Systems”.  What if it were simpler?  Less costly?

Let’s imagine that most learning is in a digital format where practical (ie, perhaps not P.E. or cooking).  The tools could gather meaningful statistics about use, time to complete something, etc. and interject real-time assistance for the student.  Teachers would get immediate indicators of learning or struggles and could intervene for the students that need more help.  All students could be allowed to progress at a pace matched to their ability.  Reading comprehension would be assessed by the tool as students move through a book.  Math tools (one example: The Dreambox Experiment by Chris Kennedy) could monitor, assess, and guide student learning and inform their teacher. 

Students in our District recently brainstormed Personalized Learning (courtesy of Coquitlam School District Student Leadership Council)…

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Notice their emphasis of “through technology”, “more freedom”, “flexibility and choice”, and “self-paced”.  I think the right kind of technology can play a significant role in making this possible for students and practical for teachers.  I don’t know what it looks like exactly but it will come. 

Imagine technology freeing teachers from “teaching”, “assessing”, and “pacing” so that they could be coaches, guides, easily know where their students strengths and weaknesses are, intervene for students just in time for those that need deeper help, and seek to enrich experiences for all of their students?  What kinds of technology is needed to make this possible?  I wonder if teachers see this as valuable for them and their students?

“It’s always very dangerous to use the word ‘impossible’ where technology is concerned.” Lights in the Tunnel (kindle 2193)