Friday, August 13, 2010

Assessment and Technology

You can't walk three feet into a teacher professional development event without tripping over sessions that focus on technology.

But we know there are cute ways to integrate technology into everyday learning and there are authentic ways to integrate. It's mostly just cute to use a word processor to add colours to your font, but it's a hell-of-a lot more authentic if you include hyper-links for your sources.

In our mania for testing, some have decided that simply taking multiple choice examinations and putting them on a computer and rifling the bubble sheets through a computerized scanner is authentic when really this is hardly even cute. It's one of the least imaginative ways to use technology to facilitate learning that I can think of. (It's only slightly more imaginative than posting the marks on-line for parents to see)

What's a more authentic way of integrating technology into testing?

What if we could assess children while they are still learning? What if we didn't force them to focus on how well they are learning, so they could focus mostly on what they are learning?

What would that look like?

First let's agree we have to stop asking kids to show us what they know by doing things they hate.

If we want to know if someone is proficient at catching a baseball, how would we assess that? I'm just going to throw this out there, but perhaps we could ask him to play catch with a friend, and we could watch him catch the ball. Or I guess we could ask him a multiple choice question. (Okay, that was snarky.)

We can do a heck-of-a-lot better job integrating technology into our assessment practices. I believe this is where simulations come in. The military and the medical fields have used simulations for some time now where k-12 mostly has not.

Pilots use simulators to hone their skills while an instructor assesses.

Did you catch that?

The learner is actually able to use the assessment tool, the simulator, as a learning tool while the teacher is able to use the simulator as an assessment tool.

Can you remember the last unit, mid-term or final exam that you actually learned from?

The kinds of exams we give now tend to be multiple choice and they serve more as a gotcha tool than a learning tool. These are exactly the kinds of assessments that halt learning in the name of measurement. These kinds of tests are not even diagnostic assessments - that is, they do not assess children for the purpose of finding out why the student has a low score - rather multiple choice examinations are merely for identifying who scores low and classifies them as such.

This is why there is no substitute for what a teacher can see and hear when observing and interacting with students while they are learning, and the proper use of technology, such as simulations and games, can help teachers more effectively and efficiently facilitate such authentic assessments.


  1. We had this discussion yesterday in our school. It was really encouraging to see people move toward a paradigm of mastery (no more deadlines, no more zeros). I brought up what has worked for me - projects and portfolios as assessment, so that the assessment happens while the learning takes place and only finishes when a student has reached mastery.

  2. This is great! An SBG system allows teachers to use these kinds of observations for assessment.

    In your classes next year, do you see yourself moving towards the type of technology/assessment system you write about? What might it look like?

  3. Joe,

    I agree with you that using a computer for multiple choice exams is not beneficial to the students at all. What are some examples of how you can use technology and assessment together in the classroom? What have you done that you have found to be effective?

  4. @George,

    In my classroom, my observations and interactions with kids are the most valuable source of data I can use to assess.

    I believe blogging can play a huge role in assessing what kids understand. I'm also going to use screen casting more with students.

    I'm also looking into using more computer games that I could use to integrate all kinds of curriculum objectives.

    I'll flesh out some more specific examples over the coming weeks before this new school year.


  5. @Joe That would be great if you can share those practices. Great ideas for your blog as there is definitely a need to have effective assessment practices in the classroom, and with the push to use successful technology integration, the two should coincide. Looking forward to what you share.

  6. Where are you at with these concepts now, @Joe? I've been really struggling with how to assess students in my capacity as a Computer Lab teacher during brief 30 minute sessions with 430 children each week. I think walking around with a roster clipboard in each class and noting mastery for kids might work, but it seems incredibly overwhelming. What have you learned about this since August? :D

  7. Love the concept, but do you realise how much an air simulation pod costs? Just throwing that in as an immediate reaction to the idea. On thinking about it, would be great, but can see how it becomes a bit difficult in some subject areas in the senior years of teaching, as I have a subject that I would relish having some better way of evaluating what they have learnt. Information Processes and Technology you would naturally think it would be easy looking at the title, but hmm, after much brain racking couldn't think of how it could be accomplished, as another subject I teach would easily use this concept.


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