Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"How Do I Grade It?" - Separating User & Device

"How do I grade it?" 

Teachers who integrate technology into student activities and projects often ask this question. How do we answer it?

Fundamentally, assessing multimedia activities and projects is no different than assessing traditional ones, such as written essays. The primary differences between them are the unique features and possibilities associated with a specific medium. A blog, for instance, has a unique set of possibilities vastly different than those of a notebook, as does a mapping app when compared to a paper map of the world. 

The first thing to realize is that you cannot separate the user from the device. iPads, Chromebooks, and tech tools don’t demonstrate great learning - students do. It’s about what students do with the technology that matters. The technology is simply neutral. Consider: Would a teacher grade the pen a student used to write an essay? Of course not. They would grade what the student wrote. It’s what students create with the tool that is the heart of assessment. 

The next step is to be clear about what you want to assess. If you’re attempting to evaluate “21st century skills” such as creativity and collaboration, these competencies cannot be measured on a bubble-test. If students are creating and collaborating, they are performing. So, instead of thinking of the assessment itself as the measurement, we need to concentrate on students’ performances of understanding. 

Performance is most often analyzed through formative and summative assessment. Formative assessment is ongoing and provides information needed to adjust teaching and learning. It not only helps to monitor student progress throughout an activity, but can also gauge student understanding and readiness to proceed to further tasks. Summative assessment focuses on a particular point in time-- often at the conclusion of an activity. 

Regardless whether the immediate assessment is formative or summative, a teacher needs to be able to distinguish between the capabilities of the tool and the students’ performance using the tool. To illustrate, any student can produce a visually stunning and captivating video presentation using iMovie since it has built-in, easy-to-use professional effects. So, to assess the movie presentation effectively, the teacher needs evidence of the thinking that went into the creation of the movie. In this example, as with many student multimedia projects, it’s crucial that the teacher collect evidence demonstrating student decision-making and student actions that went into the creation of the movie. 

As History teacher Shawn McCusker explains: “Creating check-ins and opportunities for peer and teacher review can keep the learning objective in view as well as support the development of skills. Watching a student construct meaning, formulate how to express it to an audience, and THEN create a presentation, offers more opportunity to foster growth than just collecting an assignment ever will.” In other words, the process that students go through when thinking, deciding, and acting upon their multimedia presentation is a valuable learning exercise and provides crucial information to help teachers assess multimedia projects. Therefore, the formative process of creating a multimedia presentation (which often happens with pen and paper) is at least as important as the summative, final presentation. So, any effective evaluation of a multimedia activity or project includes assessment of evidence of “visible thinking.”

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