Do you ever just feel a little left behind when it comes to technology? Just when you think you’ve got it down, something else comes along and you have to keep learning. Darn, I hate it when that happens. That whole “continuing education” thing really gets in the way sometimes, doesn’t it?
I say this tongue-in-cheek of course. As educators (and people for that matter), we’re always learning and growing. So sometimes, I think that assessment is a little silly. After all, are we ever really a “master” at something? Don’t we always have more to learn? I mean, I’ve studied, performed, written and taught music for over 25 years at this point and I still wouldn’t consider myself a master. Not even close. So perhaps the true meaning of assessment is really in measuring where we are in comparison to others. Or maybe it’s just to see if we have the basic skill set down. Either way, I’m not too thrilled about what this means for our students or our teachers.
Actually, after all this reflection this week on assessments, I think their core purpose is to tell us how we are doing in comparison to ourselves. That is, seeing how far we’ve come as a guide to tell us where we are headed. It’s kind of like when you are peddling up a mountain (or a hill, in my case) and stopping about half-way there to look back and give yourself a pat on the back for coming so far. And then turning your face front and figuring out what route you’re going to take to get to the summit. You want to learn from the sweat you’ve already put into the journey to make the next part more satisfying and perhaps, a little easier.
This is where technology comes into play in assessments. We have makers for students, so we need to have an assessment for makers. We need to get out of the 20th century mindset and re-envision what assessment can look like for the future. That HAS to include technology. It just does. Our students are using sophisticated technology every day and to try and test them without it makes absolutely no sense. We need to embrace technology (flaws and all) and use it to help us with that core purpose for measuring individual student growth.
Of course, we also need to keep in mind the limitations of technology – and yes, there are some very big limits currently. Just ask the folks at Pearson who had their servers go down while a whole population of 5th graders in Maryland were taking part of their State Science test online. All of the information was lost and the students needed to start again. Not a shining moment in technology’s favor. Technology is still limited by bandwidth, access, knowledge, and server space. Yet, improvements are being made all the time. So let’s take a big collective breath and step out past our comfort zone for just a minute.
Ways to Use Technology for Assessment
These are just a few of the ways that I have seen or used technology to help me measure student growth:
Creating digital portfolios online.
I like these because in essence, this is a blog/webpage that showcases student work from the whole year. It’s easy to update and easy to access. It allows the students to experiment with graphic design (which uses measurement principals) and writing source code. Depending on the subject, it can be fairly simple and straightforward as a way to present classroom work, or as a way to get them ready for the world of interviewing and job-seeking. Most companies nowadays expect you to have a web-presence. This is teaching our students how to develop that in a safe and secure way. Never allow students to use their full names or put any personal information on there (including pictures of themselves or others in their classroom) unless it is through a private access. Teaching safety online is a huge topic, but you can address this and still have some awesome portfolios.
Create assessments using YouTube videos.
Again, make them secure, but after that – let them go wild! I’ve had students create videos for interviews with dead composers, for creating dramatic scenes that connect with a story they are reading, and for teaching their peers choreography using geometry. This teaches students the art of editing, recording, being prepared, and self-reflection. Once my students watch their pieces, they all create a list for how to improve it and go back and do it again. This reflection piece is one of the biggest ways our students can learn from their own assessment.
Recording a song through Garageband or Audacity.
Students can create their own podcasts, karaoke song or poetry set to a beat structure using these two programs. Again, the self-reflection piece here is vital. I like to have students write their own songs using chords learned in class and writing their own lyrics about a topic from a social studies unit. Students then record them, add beats and instruments through the editing process and we upload them to iTunes for them to upload at home. Students create a band name, album art and even pseudonyms to post. It’s a project they remember year after year and it is a great way for me to assess if they understand and can manipulate beat, chords, rhythm and make it into a statement based on history. I’ve seen other teachers use this as a podcasting tool where students teach others by creating their own podcasts on a subject that they just researched.
Wikis, blackboard, discussion threads.
Setting up a discussion thread that students can contribute to through one of these platforms has powerful consequences in and out of your classroom. I like to pose questions to my students like “What if….” and then give them a scenario to solve using information they have learned in various contents. Students enjoy reading the logic/opinions of their peers and can better flesh out their own ideas to add. I’ve heard from parents that this adds to a lively dinner table conversation some evenings during the week. And what teacher doesn’t want their students talking about their class in such an animated way?
These are just the tip of the iceburg, by the way. There’s also wordles, creating comics through ComicLife, and much more! I encourage you to explore the technology in your own district and see how creatively you can use it in assessing your own students. What I find most interesting, by the way, is that these very same methods could also be used to assess teachers. We could have digital portfolios of our work, contribute to a discussion thread, create a podcast about a classroom management technique, or create a YouTube video of a lesson to share with colleagues in our districts. These can all be used to show our growth as educators and our commitment to continued learning experiences.
Technology is here to stay – we can either embrace its possibilities or scorn its acceptance out of fear. One thing is for certain: I know which side of that coin my students are going to take. As their teacher, I want to be on that side with them.