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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Importance of Collaborative Assessment in a 21st Century Classroom

Collaborative assessment must be part of our learning today. We, as educators are doing our students a disservice if we don't attempt to make this type of assessment available to our students. There are few professions and work environments that only focus on individual competencies. Most modern work environments involve some type of collaboration or connected problem solving to enhance their corporation or product. However, the inevitable barriers surface in the form of social and digital media taboos.

Opportunities for New Learning Connections

When you tear down the taboos associated with social and digital media students can thrive in an environment that is collaborative, engaging, and purposeful. This collaboration can lead to a new audience of constrictive critics and opportunities for new learning connections. Students have the chance to receive constructive feedback in a collegial, safe environment. By promoting this style of assessment we foster the building of new learning communities. Further, we empower our students voice and give them the opportunity to build vast learning networks that will endure. These are assessments that matter, assessments that have purpose. We must encourage collaborative assessments in all facets of learning.

Model Collaboration

One of the best ways to foster collaborative assessment throughout your school is for administrators and faculty to model various types of collaboration. This is not to suggest the entire faculty sit in an empty classroom and talk about curriculum and testing. This is the old way.

Stop having traditional meetings and start connecting and conversing. Show your students how you connect outside of the classroom. Show them how Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, etc. can be used effectively to connect professionally and occasionally drop a little humor. Demonstrate ways in which you can connect remotely with educators all over the globe and bring those ideas into class. But don't just bring them in and say, "Hey I found this on twitter -Hooray!" Instead, show them the process and how you came about the information you were seeking out. The pursuit of information is a skill that we must constantly revisit, evolve, and adapt to during such rapid change.

Steps for Collaborative Assessment

If your school embraces a collaborative workspace it will be easy to transition this style of learning to your classroom and to your assessments. If not, there is no better time to provoke this change. One of the first things you can do when assessing students' learning is present them with a problem that will elicit a recall of various skills learned throughout a particular course of study. In the traditional manner, give them clear objectives, criteria to demonstrate what they have been learning, and a rubric that defines clear expectations. Then, let them go. Allow your students to organize into work groups. Let them define the roles needed for the task and allow them the opportunity to use various technologies to present, but don't suggest or define a specific tool.

So to quickly review:

  • Step 1: Set clear objectives and tasks
  • Step 2: Allow for open collaboration
  • Step 3: Allow access to learning tools
  • Step 4: Limit explicit direction
  • Step 5: Define clear expectations

It's simple, painless, and in the end, will yield a more attractive product to review and showcase.

Provide an Outlet

The next step in creating collaborative assessment is to provide an outlet for your students to present or demonstrate what they have learned. This can take on many forms and should be in an environment that is safe and approved by your administration and parents. While we all have our students' best interest in mind, it is best to err on the side of caution when publishing student work to any social forum. Another option is to have students' work published, but have them create a pen name or post it as anonymous. In the past I have posted students responses on my blog, but taken away the name. The students still receive feedback from a vast audience, and at the same time, retain anonymity. Just because we embrace a particular medium, doesn't necessarily mean administrators and parents will be so universally accepting.

Focus on the Environment

We have the ability and infrastructure to create collaborative learning environments in our schools. Even if you are residing in a one-room schoolhouse that does not have one outlet, you can still create these environments. Adding technology to the process simply allows for varied opportunities for presentation and demonstration. Furthermore, these are the types of environments our students will be working in some day. We owe it to our students to introduce this style of learning and present authentic problem solving through collaboration.

The Challenges of Collaborative Assessment...

Adversely, one of the problems I have encountered with this style of learning is that students don't know how to adjust to an assignment without parameters and explicit instructions. Depending on the level you teach, students have come to expect rote types of learning. This habit is not easily broken. Many of my high school students and college freshmen have trouble adapting to this style of learning. They want a test and specific criteria. They want to know what is on the test and exactly what they need to get the 'A'. Simple solution: Don't entertain these questions. Tell every student in the class that he or she is going to receive an 'A'. Set the bar at its highest and allow your students to learn without any pressure.

...And Why It's Worth It

I don't mean for this style of learning and assessment to sound utopian, however I feel that we owe it to our students to incorporate this style of learning. We cannot fault them into thinking they will be part of an assembly line or a monotonous job. We must promote dynamic, inquiry driven learning that provokes critical thinking and fosters adaptability. We have the ability to connect and challenge our students. We cannot pretend like the future is coming, the future is now, and we must give our students the best opportunity to learn today.

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David Loomis's picture

Hi I am a student from Mr. Brannick's PLN class. I agree you about collaboration, it helps us as students to discuss the issue and work together on it. In my English class we have groups, in our groups we create a Google doc for whatever we are working on in class. We can comment on each others work and add our own thoughts to it. It is different from traditional learning where we just have a discussion in class. Through the Google doc we do not have to be in class we can be anywhere to work together.

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

I was a little confused about your use of collaborative assessment - but after reading the piece, I absolutely agree with your position (and it's not utopian at all). And with regard to collaborative assessment relating to the mandatory grade, there are two inputs here as well: there is the single assessment of collaborative work (made even more valuable if there's enough feedback and group discussion of that feedback) to help all members grow in their knowledge / skills learning; AND there is the group individual assessment of all group member's (including own) collaborative skill learning. The latter is important to honestly reflect individual contributions to collaborative efforts as well as reflect on why collaboration is working or not working.

You are dead-on about students wanting specific instructions. In one of my college classes, I gave an assignment dealing with a fluid (gas or liquid, recall) they regularly encounter in their lives. After a few days, one group told me they couldn't think of a fluid and asked me to select one for them. I told them I refused to accept their answer and sent them away.

One final thought is to make sure any materials are handed out in printed form or available to all posted online (or both). This avoids the "I didn't know that" refrain.

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