Blending Assessment – BlendKit2014

venspired via photopin cc

Blended courses need to consider not only what kind of assessment will take place, but also how much assessment will be online and how much will be in a F2F context. In other words, will there be a balance between the two contexts or will one weigh more heavily than the other and if so, which assessment tasks will bear more weight?

Depending on the course subject and the time dedicated to both teaching contexts (i.e. online and F2F), assessment tasks may include  multiple choice, essay type assignments, in-class discussions and presentations as well as a reflection log. I think it is important to also have a balanced assessment plan with both F2F assessment (which may hopefully avoid online cheating issues) but also assignments with the use of technology, thus making good use of students already using digital technology to access the course. An example could be creating a video or other multi-media products and then uploading to the student’s or class blog, or if being used, the course LMS.

As in courses held F2F, there should also be an inclusion of formal and informal assessment. If, on the one hand, formal assessment gives both the instructor and students, feedback on their progress in terms of mastering content (e.g. a mid-term or final exam), informal assessment gives students the chance for them to test their own knowledge.

Equally important is how the assessment tasks will be evaluated. Once established what the students need to be assessed on and how (i.e. online or in the F2F context), and after the assessment tool and task has been designed, then it is time to consider the assessment criteria, in terms of how the student met the learning outcomes. Both quantitative and qualitative rubrics may be considered and these should be available to students before the assessments, very much like in other courses, whether F2F or online.

References:

10 Examples of Question Improvement – Centre for Distributed Learning, UCF

Blended Learning ToolKit

Rubric for Online Instruction

Teaching Online – Effective Online Assessment, UCF

 

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Assessment and iPadology

Aligning course goals with a course, is often left out of the  hands of educators who work at  institutions, (or at least where I am currently located – in other locations, I both designed and developed the assessment format of a course). However, as I also mentioned in my previous post, personally speaking, I have always had a handful of marks which I could give to learners according to what I thought was relevant. Most of the times, these marks were awarded for continuous assessment – not only a presence in the classroom, but collaboration and fulfillment of tasks. As a language teacher, project-based learning is not new to me – for years I have practiced what is known as task-based learning – not only learning a language, but learning it through intelligent tasks where students could use the language and skill outside the classroom.

Nevertheless, my greatest challenge at the moment, is finding a balance within the assessment formats I am given to follow. If one looks closely at this chart below (taken from Teach Thought), where exactly do the contradictions lie?

Many of these tasks are not really about quantity; rather about quality and richly embedded with digital literacy skills (which still today are not being included in the curriculum). As I am currently teaching within an iPad learning environment, everyday I question assessment and evaluation procedures more.

As a learner, I appreciate feedback for my progress or lack of it.

As a teacher, I assume that other learners also appreciate feedback and the lack of any form of assessment would leave them in a void. Other than explaining the evaluation format at the beginning of a course, I also include 3/4 other elements which I take into consideration. They may not be much, but considering the handful of marks which I am given to award students, these elements weigh heavily in terms of qualitative work which cannot be pin-pointed by multiple choice.

For overall achievement of set tasks and classroom collaboration,  I award badges through Edmodo – the LMS which I use for both class management and teaching.  I create badges for collaboration, team-work, sharing, enthusiasm, self-initiatives and more. Nothing pleases me more than a student coming up and showing me something they have discovered how to do on the iPad – immediately I will ask if he/she wouldn’t mind sharing with the rest of the class. This is in fact not only sharing, but performing a mini-presentation as well. More. It is a student taking control of what she wants to learn, of individualizing her learning interests and sharing them. Isn’t that one of the purposes of education, to foster autonomy and love of problem solving? Isn’t it a pleasure when it is a student who sets the example of learning and doing instead of sitting passively, waiting to be entertained? At the end of the semester, other awards are given to the 3 students with the highest number of badges.

It is no surprise that blogging rates highly on my list of tasks for students. Blogging is one of the most important practices that actually teaches students about digital literacies and essential skills for today as they learn by doing. Just as for Presentation Skills, I give students rubrics by which their blogs will be assessed.

Depending on the level I am teaching, both presentation and blogging assessment will have slight variations of rubrics – after all, students are learning both a language and a skill.

If the diagram above is to be implemented, if media and technology skills are further developed with the implementation of iPads in classrooms, there is no doubt that assessment will have to change. The focus now is on the creation and transformation of knowing and knowledge – not only learning facts and figures to pour out in an exam.

Nevertheless, this change is far from simple or straightforward. Public/state institutions are accountable to the Ministry/Department of Education. Most governments are accountable to their population, particularly where tax is accounted for. Societies need their educational system to turn out graduates who can perform in their social systems, namely at work. If on the one hand, today there are robots doing many jobs which were initially performed by law abiding citizens, on the other hand, the emphasis on critical analysis, creative problem resolution and digital media skills are too, a focus for graduates to fit in the jobs which are necessary for societies to maintain themselves today.

Perhaps the most urgent issue is not whether one uses apps, online learning tools or not – but a change in assessment, making assessment more meaningful to learners, making assessment reflect their learning progress and ensuring standards of quality.

References

23 Ways to Use the iPad in the 21st Century PBL Classroom – Teach Thought

CristinaSkyBox – Sailing the Shift

Downes, S. – New Forms of Assessment: Measuring What You Contribute rather than What You Collect

iPads as a Catalyst to Rediscovering Your Curriculum in the 21st Century

Kharbach, Med. – Teachers Quick Guide to Blogging

Further References for Rubrics

Online Assessment Resources for Teachers

Rubrics for Assessment of Online Activities

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

Shifting Mobility, Learning and Assessment

Mobility defines our times. From cheap flights to ever more accessible mobile phones, being mobile, being able to connect anytime anywhere is taken for granted in many parts of the world.

As mentioned in some posts back, digital mobility is not restricted to phones – iPods, iPads, gaming devices are all mobile technology as well.  How is the implementation of such mobile devices in the classroom changing the playing field of education and how is education lagging behind with the consequences?

As many know, the implementation of iPads in schools and higher education has been taking the world of education by storm. This does not mean that iPads in classrooms have become as ubiquitous as blackboards or even IWB, merely that increasingly, where possible, educational institutions are turning towards iPads as the panacea for educational woes and hope that iPads will solve the many problems in education today.

Despite currently teaching  with iPads, I don’t perceive iPads as a global panacea for education. iPads are devices which allow users to access tools and to engage in digital literacies. Undoutedly, iPads offer a wide range of potential uses in classrooms, from digital books which are easy and promote learning autonomy to creative activities such as learners creating their own podcasts, visual displays with popplet and digital stories, among many others.  Yet, before teaching with iPads, my students were already carrying out such tasks, just like many other learners around the world.

The main difference I see so far, is the emphasis on mobility, choice, autonomy and personalization. Students carry their iPads because it’s cool (and one should never underestimate the cool factor); working on iPads becomes cooler than on a laptop, even though laptops still offer users an ease of use which sometimes the iPad doesn’t – for instance, embedding work done on an iPad is not always simple; if you create a story with Puppet Pals, for instance, you have to email yourself before including it in your blog. Other tools are also not immediately simple to manage on the iPad, such as Glogster, which my learners have found easier to use on a desktop or laptop. For me right now, these are technical issues which are easily solved.

This does not mean  that using iPads is misleading nor out of place in education. Mobility implies being able to be connected to the living Web, being able to communicate, create, collaborate and hopefully, when making choices, being critical in one’s evaluation.

In my view, there are however, two sticky thorns which need to be addressed and not only by educators.

One is the issue of learner autonomy – a constant issue in education (not only in the “digital” age) and assessment.

On the one hand, not all learners are willing to take responsibility for their learning nor academic progress. This may be due to cultural traditions and hence, learners’ expectations in the classroom. As such, bridges to learner autonomy need to be built so that instead of giving up or using the iPad merely to play non-educational games, learners do in fact see how the iPad is much more than a cool accessory or gaming board. With the wealth of apps, iBooks and online activities to engage students, this issue is more a question of time, of adaptation than a long term stumbling block.

In terms of activities, I would take note regarding using the iPad as one uses other more traditional devices with programs such as Office – the iPad is much more than a typing and reading device. The degree of interactivity which the iPad offers is as relevant as it being such a convenient mobile device.

If the emphasis today is even greater for learners to be autonomous in their learning, if the focus on creativity, connectivity, collaboration and mobility are seriously implemented in education, my question is: how can traditional assessment reflect what students are learning? How can multiple choice ever determine a learner’s digital literacy and creative success? If there is an ever increasing emphasis on personalization in education, how can traditional methods of evaluation have meaning in this context of learning? Concepts of time, place and teaching approaches change, but in formal education (i.e. at educational institutions) there is still traditional assessment. Shades of change in classrooms, with safe, tried and tested, traditional methods to measure their activity and knowledge accumulation.

In some ways the use of iPads in classrooms brings to mind some of the same issues as OER and MOOCs, namely the issue of assessment.

This chart below provokes further questions regarding traditional assessment in an age of mobility and openness:

(taken from: Connectivism)

Moving away from more traditional approaches to teaching and into a more open field of personalized learning, networks, diverse means to deliver content, a strong emphasis on creativity and innovation, is a basically a frightening experience for many educators and learners at times. There is a shift in classroom power, a shift in responsibility, and there should be a shift in how assessment is carried out. However, this is complex. Not all educators are creative. Not all educators think critically. And not all educators are innovative. Relying on traditional methods of assessment echoes stability and comfort – even if these echoes are not effective nor reflect what is really taking place in digitally engaged classrooms.

I don’t hold a golden key nor crystal ball with clear answers to this. I do know, however, that by learning with multimedia/multimode literacies, making use of formal and informal learning, taking advantage of all the positive features that mobile learning brings with it, the thorny issue of assessment will need to become more in tune with the pedagogical changes in classroom practices.

References:

Adventures in Mobility

Connectivism

Exploring the Pedagogical Applications of Mobile Technologies for Teaching Literacies

On the Brink with Mobile

The iPad – What it Should and Shouldn’t Be for Education

A Womb of Words

“We begin with a concept of some kind of basic awareness, some kind of basic ability to “know” or “sense” or “recognize” that something is happening. This is a fundamental theoretical and experiential given. We do not know scientifically what the ultimate nature if awareness is, but is our starting point.”

C.T.Tart

My world is filled with words. My words and words of others.

My language,  mixed with foreign sounds which have become part of my world.

Words make my world. Will the limits of my words limit my world?

If so, then there are boundaries to shift. New borders to establish. Rain, rain don't go awayDifferent worlds to explore. And new words to exploit.

This is my second posting on a digital story which is in process. Just as the rain brings smiles and frowns, so too does this entry.

Crossing boundaries requires braveness.

The Womb of Words

The stage had been set (A Journey of Stories & Roles) and it was time for the curtains to rise.

Context: Intermediate level of English

Number of students: 20 in each class, all with same L1

My students are accustomed to pair work and group work but were certainly not prepared for the challenge that lay ahead of them. In groups of 5 they had to individually select an image which they liked. Any image that appealed to them. Then, they had to negotiate and collaborate on their decision, for only one image was going to be used for the task.

The next step was to explain how they were to proceed: by logging onto Edmodo, I had created small, colour-coded groups (students were given a coloured coded cardboard to choose a colour for their group). I wrote the code for each colour on the board and students joined their new small group.

After uploading their selected image, one student had to begin the story. The others were to use the reply button in Edmodo and continue the story.

The first border to cross was that students were not accustomed to writing a group story without discussing it beforehand. Their experience was to sit together, talk about it in L1 and then one student would write it in L2 (English) while they others looked on or perhaps drew some pictures to go along with their story. This was a radical change. An entirely new world where they had to sit on their own, read what the other members of the group were writing and then add their own continuation of the story.

Challenges: to develop a story on one’s own – and in another language. Secondly, what thread/s would emerge? Would there be one story or multiple layers of a story? And if there are multiple layers to a story, is there a core to the story? How many worlds can co-exist within one story and will it make meaning to the reader?

Although I had reassured students that I was there should there be any questions, no questions were asked. I had told students to focus on the story – we would edit and proofread later. From some groups there were giggles and shrieks of laughter while others frowned as they looked silently into their screens. Shadows of uncertainty were present. I too wondered,  as I watched them engaged and forgetful of time.

What will emerge from a womb of words, where meanings struggle to link plot and characters? Where layers of stories compete to have the loudest voice?

Literacy and Technology

“Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.”

A.Koestler

Let us consider one last hypothesis related to soles of teachers and learners (A Journey of Stories & Roles) To teach signifies to give instruction. To learn signifies to gain knowledge. To give is an active verb and to gain a passive verb. These concepts of activity and passivity also determine roles in a very subtle way. The shift in concept. i.e. that learners do not only “gain” but also “give” (i.e. learners do not only “gain” but also active) in a lesson may be relatively new to learners. Relatively because they have already been exposed to a more communicative approach of teaching by their foreign teachers.

Communicative classes are supposedly open and flexible – an outsider would be able to percieve and understand the tasks in which the learners are involved: pair work with information gaps and transfer exercises as language is a vehicle for communication, groups work to stress the importance of interaction with others through language.

The communicative approach tends to be polychronic, but lessons and classrooms survive on the balance between a polychronic and monochronic atmosphere. If too much is done during the same lesson, e.g. too many activities and games, the learner will not able to cope with the accelerated pace – there will be no time given to digest and appropriate the information.

This lesson moved from a polychronic to a monochronic pace, where learners had to work on their own. However, with the tasks they were asked to do, further shifts were taking place, namely the emphasis of autonomy and creativity – and collaboration through digital media.

I have already stated how digital technologies in education open more opportunities for students who may not be particularly academically gifted (nor interested in becoming academic.) Using digital literacies is more inclusive for such learners. Cummins, Brown and Sayers (2007) argue that:

“the major problem in promoting an expanded range of literacy competencies for all students resides in the tension between inquiry-based and transmission-based orientations to pedagogy. As discussed in Chapter 2, inquiry-based orientations (both social constructivist and transformative) aim to support students in constructing curriculum-related knowledge, whereas transmission-based orientations focus on enabling students to internalize the content of the curriculum. Transmission orientations to pedagogy pre- dominate in low-income schools as a result of the pressure on teachers to ensure that their students pass the high-stakes tests that dominate the curriculum. Thus, the pedagogical focus in these schools is considerably more narrow than in more affluent schools, and this pedagogical divide extends to the ways in which technology is used in these two school contexts.” (2007:93)

By opening doors and creating bridges for my students, they are being given the opportunity to learn, explore and use digital literacies to their advantage. They are given the opportunity to create and to think critically (i.e. as they read previous contributions to the story, they need to think about how their contribution will aid the unfolding of the plot and construction of the characters).

Rorabaugh points out how:

“In his article “A Seismic Shift in Epistemology” (2008), Chris Dede draws a distinction between classical perceptions of knowledge and the approach to knowledge underpinning Web 2.0 activity. Our culture is shifting, Dede argues, not just from valuing the opinions of experts to the participatory culture of YouTube or Facebook, but from understanding knowledge as fixed and linear to a concentration on how knowledge is socially constructed. Dede writes that “the contrasts between Classical knowledge and Web 2.0 knowledge are continua rather than dichotomies . . . Still, an emerging shift to new types and ways of ‘knowing’ is apparent and has important implications for learning and education.””

Indeed there are shifts. Morever, there are challenges for those involved and participating in these shifts. One of the challenges within education is the assessment factor, particularly in regard to qualitatitive assessment and digital learning.

Miyazoe and Anderson (2010), in their study on the simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog and wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, state that:

“One of the difficulties that has yet to be addressed concerns assessment issues in collaborative learning, namely how we evaluate the process and the final products of collaborative work such as wiki productions. (…) to evaluate collaborative artifacts, at least three elements should be considered: 1) achievement as a group process in contrast to work of other groups; 2) the individual’s share in the group’s achievement; and 3) achievement of the individual before and after the group work.”

Collaborative work has often been a problematic area for teachers to assess. Nevertheless, it is something that language teachers often must do as there is individual work, pair work and group work in their classes. By using a digital platform such as Edmodo, the teacher has clear access to who contributes, how much is contributed and the quality of the contribution – in this particular case, both in terms of language use and story building.

In regard to the first and and third issues raised, the process has not yet ended and students will still have thresholds to cross.

A world of words, a womb of challenges and shifts in tormoil, will soon unfold.

References:

Cummins, J., Brown, K., Sayers, D. (2007) Literacy, Technology, and Diversity 

Miyazoe, T, Anderson, T. (2010) Learning Outcomes and Students’ Perceptions of Online Writing: Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog, and a wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, System, Volume 38, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 185–199

Rorabaugh, P. (2012)  Digital Culture and Shifting Epistemology