Tech to Transform Assessment – part I


Technology can impact assessment in a variety of ways, from substituting digital tests for paper to self-marking online formative assessments, (Substitution and Augmentation in the SAMR model) it has great potential to assess skills and knowledge in ways that we couldn’t imagine or were not possible previously, redefining how we assess.

When considering which assessment tool to use, begin with your learning goal.  Understand what it is that you’re intending to assess in the first place.  The next consideration is selecting an assessment tool that will give you the kind of information you need to assess students progress toward the particular learning goal.

Too Many Hammers

“Too Many Hammers”

One of my favorite sayings:

‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’

certainly applies to assessment. If all you do is assess learning with a paper and pencil test, you’re seriously limiting the learning goals you can have for your students.

In a recent Professional Learning session for our Middle and High School staff we aimed to introduce a few items teachers could add to their assessment toolkit.

Socrative is a tool I’ve written about before in the context of the ‘flipped classroom’. This tool has a simple web interface that is made for mobile devices but works well on our student’s MacBook Pros. The whole premise behind Socrative is that it can be a way to collect instant feedback on student learning without having to radically modify how we teach.

Typically, teachers will pose problems to students, maybe writing them on the board or asking orally. The lucky student who is called upon gets to answer while some in the class may just play the odds and not engage in the problem. Using Socrative, the teacher can push an “answer space” to every student and have them respond and view the live results challenging everyone to answer. The instructor can immediately use this live feedback to decide if they need to spend more time on this particular topic or if the class is ready to move forward.

In our session, we first pushed a short quiz of belief statements about assessments (crowd-sourced from Twitter, share code: SOC-183118) which had no right or wrong answer*. Respondents selected based on their belief whether the statement was “more true than false” or “more false than true”. We downloaded a report of the results. They then partnered up with another teacher and went through the quiz together having discussion on the statements they didn’t agree on.
*to assist in data analysis, I marked every question with “more true than false” as the correct answer.

Our MS & HS Maths teachers have used Socrative quite a bit to “take the temperature” of the class following a lesson using ‘Exit Ticket’ quizzes. (Socrative has a standard one built in or you can make your own) These typically have students rate their own level of understanding or comfort with the material, solve a few example problems, and have an opportunity to ask questions that linger in their minds. Our teachers were already using paper-based Exit Tickets and really like the ease of data analysis that the Excel reports from Socrative quizzes afford them.

We gave participants an Exit Ticket, share code: SOC-175368 at the end to get feedback and to help us know what their needs are for future sessions. 

Though Socrative easily allows us to get a quick read on how all our students are learning, the type of response (multiple choice or written response) limits the depth and types of learning we can assess. To get a glimpse into the thinking process students are using, an entirely different genre of assessment is needed.

‘Learning Talks’, explained by colleague Andrew McCarthy, allow us to see and review students’ metacognition, or thinking about thinking. There are several ways teachers have always done this, using things like oral examination or less formally by questioning. Using technology however we can capture the student’s thoughts in the moment, as they’re working out a problem. This gives us invaluable insight into their understanding of a topic. I’m describing Learning Talks as a genre here because there are really many ways that they can be done. We focused on a few different ones during our session.

Learning Talks with the MacBook – Video
Students quite often record things or take photographs with their Facetime cameras on their laptops. These cameras can be used simply with Photo Booth  to record a video.  Here are a few ideas:

  • A student can record a “director’s commentary” of their own musical composition as it is playing in the background, explaining their choices and intentions. 
  • A student can record themselves talking about a piece of artwork they’ve made and are displaying to the camera.
  • A pair of students can record a whiteboard or paper drawing of a chemical reaction as they explain it.
  • A group of students engaging in a book talk can record the thoughts and contributions of each member of the group as it happens.
  • A student could create a quick Common Craft style video shooting downward at the table as they manipulate simple paper cut-out figures to illustrate a concept.

Learning Talks with the MacBook – Screencast
Quite often students will create something on their computer or work through a problem using tools like Geometer’s Sketchpad. Using Quick Time player, students can record anything that’s on the screen of their MacBook while recording their voices. This is what it might look like:

  • A student explains their thinking while solving a Maths problem using Autograph to illustrate the solution.
  • Students could build a simple Keynote illustrating a concept like price elasticity and record a “voice-over” movie.
  • A student could use Skitch to draw or annotate a diagram of a cell membrane while explaining how the structure is related to its function. 
  • A student could use Skitch to annotate on a still photograph of themselves taking a jump shot in P.E. using lines to illustrate the proper technique, arm position, hand postion, etc.

Learning Talks with the iPad – Screencast
Annotating using Skitch or a similar program on your trackpad can be a difficult thing for students. In situations where the annotating, writing or drawing are going to be extensive, it makes sense to move to an iPad.  Several different apps exist to allow you to record screencasts on your iPad and they all take full advantage of the large screen when you can draw or write and see your results directly on the screen and record voice at the same time. Ideas for iPad screencasts:

  • Students “work out” a solution to a maths problem by hand as they explain.
  • Students explain a concept like positive and negative space by sketching on screen and/or by importing examples of images they’ve found using Safari browser. 
  • Students draw out a timeline as they explain significant events about Singapore in WWII. 
  • Students photograph a piece of text and annotate or highlight the text as they explain.

What ideas do you have about how Learning Talks might be used?  Please add them by leaving a comment.

Our teachers are quite excited to add some new items to their assessment toolkit and several used them the next days in their lessons. In future sessions, we aim to introduce more tools and techniques that can help us expand our thinking about assessment and see the opportunities they can give us to gain insight into what our students know, can do, and understand.

Bullseye image:
Hammers image:

0 Comments Add yours

  1. Joan Liu says:

    Thanks for sharing! Very useful!

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