The Discontent of our Connectivity

1x.photo33064There is no doubt that connectivity has opened up learning possibilities and approaches which were not viable before. Skills such as collaboration and networking online have become more urgent and unquestioning relevant for both institutions and individuals. I often disagree with notions that creativity and critical thinking are essential ingredients of today’s education, for they have always been necessary. Nevertheless, with the role of digital literacies firmly in place, shifts of classroom practice and assessment are required.

Digital literacies is an umbrella term which includes different kinds of literacy, ranging from digital citizenship to digital media fluency. Some may even include  lCT literacy, while others claim that learners today also need to have improved computer knowledge and not only know how to use them.

At times I sense that there is a certain degree of unease when discussing digital literacies in education: Where are they visible in the curriculum? Aren’t teachers supposed to teach their subject matter and not dabble in visual representations, games, social media and other digital tools which are free online? And if teachers are wasting time with these activities, will there be sufficient focus  on the official syllabus for students to achieve in their  assessments?

55476-time-travelAssessment.

Evaluation.

Tests.

Exams.

Measuring days behind the desk in tea spoons.

Popping bubbles in charts to please the statistics of a nation.

Within the analogue classroom, my approach would easily be labelled as blended. However, what of my assessment approach? As an individual working within an institution, I have no right to disrupt what my department lays down as the framework for assessment. As an individual, I may reflect and consider what best may be done for my learners and how they are practicing learning in my classrooms. As an individual I have the right to think and express myself, but not necessarily go against the directives of my workplace. Nonetheless, educators often have leeway in terms of assessment – for as long as I can remember, I have always had the space and numbers to award learners a mark which was based on qualitative features, rather than measured “rights” and “wrongs”.

So, where is the discontent?

In the classroom. 1x.comphotos52084-21735

In the halls of educational institutions.

On the playground.

At home, where learners plug into their connected world and plug out of their learning environment.

This raises several questions:

1 – Learning Environment

Today the learning environment is not self-contained in one particular space. Students can log into their LMS to be updated, check emails, join chats  in synchronous time. Learning is neither solitary nor confined to space and time.

2 – Classroom Practice Versus Assessment

In classrooms where the focus is on learner autonomy, individualization and digital practices, how can assessment continue be practiced in its traditional format of multiple choice boxes and bubble sheets? Where is the connection between the work done on creating a Popplet, a glog or a blog post and then labelling a learner with a quantitative evaluation approach? Is there any link between the emphasis on type of activities carried out in the classroom and the tests that students then must take?

3 – Assessment,  Learning Culture and Discomfort

Self-evaluation, as described by Rolheiser and Ross (Student Self-Evaluation) plays an important role in education, however, in my view, educators need to first take the learning culture into consideration, namely the issue of responsibility and learner autonomy. These features need to be in place before institutions move ahead to a more open and transparent form of assessment. A case in point is my current teaching context.

My students arrive at tertiary education from a primarily rote-education background. They are accustomed to a strong group mentality and culture; for instance, if a student has a complaint, that student will not complain alone but with the whole group together. In the classroom, as in many places around the world, students are more comfortable working in small groups rather than on their own. Although there is place for both pair and group work, there are times when work needs to be done individually. This is a learning bridge to be crossed.

Additionally, this current academic year my students are using iPads as their main learning tools. They have books (which they do not bring to class); they also have an iBook to follow. Their iBook is quite interactive, with activities that do demand a range of digital literacies – from being able to use a range of apps to different individual tasks. It is ignoring the fact that students are now in possession of a tool which transforms their autonomy, which becomes a discontent in connectivity. The learner has both the content and means to create further content. The focus is highly individualized, with each learner moving from the different tasks at their convenience and pace.

I have noticed how the most successful lessons are those where chaos reigns. There are set tasks for students to accomplish; they do them in their own pace. With this apparent chaos, as I am called by X or Y , while looking over the shoulder of Z, I confirm that each of them are in fact carrying out their tasks. Individually, they will use tools which they prefer for a presentation or digital story. They will collaborate with one another, helping a peer to use an app or adjust an image.

Day by day their learning culture changes. Chaos will rule and within the apparent chaos on the surface, learning is happening underneath – learning how to be autonomous, learning how to create digitally, learning how to become more effective digital learners and citizens.

It is only when these practices have been ingrained and learned, that self-evaluation will actually take on a more meaningful role. Not that these learners are unable to evaluate themselves; yet one needs to respect how they are already juggling some steps of autonomy and the teacher’s different role in their classroom. Should the teacher’s assessment fade away completely, learners would feel cheated and uncomfortable with such a consequence. As with all learning, it needs to be practiced and implemented in achievable steps so that all parties involved perceive it’s utility.

self_eval1Despite giving learners guidance and the chart on the left is an example,  one needs to remember that not all  cultures regard responsibility and autonomy in the same light. There are critical differences, linked to the broader cultural environment. Self-evaluation may become part of my students’ assessment today, but only up to a point.

Connectivity. Discontent. Realities which go hand in hand with today’s digitalized classrooms.

Assessment is part of education.

However, passivity in the face of change will not silence the discontent.

References

Rolheiser, C and J.A.Ross – Student Self-Evaluation: What Research Says and What Practice Shows

Silva, E. – Measuring Skills for 21st Century Learning

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