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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Testing with Tech: The Role of Technology in Supporting and Enhancing Assessment

Related Tags: Assessment

Barbara Means | Grant Wiggins | Bruce Alberts

Barbara Means

Vice President, Policy Division, SRI International

If you imagine each of the students in a class with some kind of a handheld computing device, which is not farfetched today -- maybe it was five years ago but it's not today -- and you imagine a teacher is, for example, teaching a principle in physics and asks the students to predict what would happen to the trajectory of a ball if you're rotating around in a circle and let loose the ball at a certain position. You have each of the students actually draw what that trajectory might look like.

We could take almost any other example, that in a moment in time, could give the teacher a picture of what the kids do and do not understand about the principles that are going to be studied. Having that picture can identify common kinds of misconceptions and, certainly after a piece of instruction, it can identify that which we know often happens in physics classes, which is: the beautiful lecture is given, the students listen attentively, they take notes, and they still don't really understand the concepts underneath it.

And so if we start thinking about having unobtrusive ways within classrooms to capture student performances in the course of learning, that's something I think technology can really help support, as well as being able to support the maintenance of an organized archive or record of these student performances over time. The idea is to have a system that keeps a record but that is very unobtrusive on the surface -- one that just blends into the course of activity.

You can see that in some of the prototype technology-supported assessments being developed today -- they're presented in terms of puzzles or projects with things kids explore on the Web. It doesn't feel like a test. It doesn't feel like an assessment. It feels like an interesting activity that you're doing on the computer that presents opportunities for students to express their understanding or their skill in a certain way. Then underneath the surface, where the student doesn't have to worry about that, all those can be accumulated over time to give a profile of student's strengths and weaknesses.

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Grant Wiggins

President, Grant Wiggins & Associates

Technology, I think, has a vital role to play in project-based work and in more robust assessment. Once we get beyond the idea that assessment is more than just quizzes and tests -- and that it's the documentation of whereby you make this case that the student has done something significant -- this body of evidence, if we want to stick with that judicial metaphor, proves the student actually learned something.

Technology is an obvious partner because whether it's on a CD-ROM, floppies, or an old-fashioned technology like video cameras or even overheads, the student is bringing together visual, three-dimensional, and paper-and-pencil work. We want to be able to document and have a trace of what the student has accomplished and how the student got there.

Having said that, I think sometimes technology is overused and we don't think carefully enough about the evidence we need to give the grade, put something on the transcript, and track that information over time. Many well-intentioned people say, "Let's have student portfolios of the student's work K-12." Well, that's fine for the student, but there's hardly another human being other than the kid's family that wants to wade through all that.

And that's actually another role of technology: It's a good database system -- information management, storage, and retrieval whereby we say, "I don't want to look through the whole portfolio. I want to just see some samples, some rubrics to get a sense of the student's current level of performance." Tracking information over time through technology is actually an important part of it as well.

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Bruce Alberts

President, National Academy of Sciences

The academy spent a major three-year effort bringing some of the best experts in testing and assessment together to try to envision the future around testing and the two elements necessary to make a high-quality test, which are essential for really driving education in the right direction.

One of the elements is the promise of modern technologies -- computer technologies -- that in principle could allow you to do sophisticated testing on a large, inexpensive scale. The other component, of course, is our understanding of how students learn and our understanding of what's important to learn. So, we need to bring those two communities together to work on creating tests, and this committee had that kind of a mixture.

The report, Knowing What Students Know, just came out and it emphasizes the optimistic feeling that we can do it. That is, there are few cases where enough effort's been put in to create tests using the best information we have about learning, and combining that with sophisticated computer techniques.

There are enough examples of those to give people the feeling that we can, in principle and if we put enough research and effort into it, develop relatively low-cost tests that students could take even over the Web so that we could get to scale with these tests and that these kinds of tests would drive the right kind of teaching and learning.

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Comments (36)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Motavenda Melchizedek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I recently returned to school after a 20 year absence and am currently getting my Master's Degree in Secondary Education with Art as my content area. Being an artist all my life, and negotiating the disenfranchised state I found myself in much of that time, left me exuberant at the sight of technology and how empowering these tools can be for the average person. I developed my own website and found entry into the world of commerce, all from the comfort of my own home. Having experienced first-hand the power of technology to eliminate obstacles and to forge pathways for my own self-expression in high-level ways, I am now an absolute advocate of putting these tools in the hands of students. There are so many more opportunities for demonstrating knowledge and skills that become available through access to basic computer technology and tools. For instance, I recently created a web style portfolio and found it to be so much more viable a method of demonstrating my own "evidence of learning" than the standard plastic binder method my classmates used.
There are many products and performances that can be more adequately and thoroughly assessed with the support of appropriate technology. I have been observing classes at local schools over this past year, and it is astounding to discover the degree to which basic access to technology is absent. There a many students who would be catapulted to great heights of learning and demonstration of learning who are instead staring blankly at the chalkboard, unstimulated.
I also think that adequate technology in the hands of teachers is key to organization, synthesis and evaluation of both formative and summative assessments. So much time can be saved and much better use of data can be made with basic technological support.

Kim Artman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology in Assessment
It is hard to think in terms of using technology in my classroom assessment since I am an elementary art teacher. Growing up I took traditional courses in art with paper, pencil, charcoal, and paint. I like technology but never really tied it to my instruction or assessment purposes. I am currently taking a class that shows a variety of ways to use assessments. I am using some technology in my art class to assess my students due to exposure through courses like the one I am attending and discussions such as this one.
Technology certainly speeds up time in my class. I am able to show students famous pieces of art through the computer. It is nice and easy to find with search engines that can pop up on the screen within a few seconds. If I used the traditional way of searching for a famous piece of art through a book, it would take too much time and the students would loose their focus. In various art classes in college, the teachers would time the slides and we would have a few minutes to describe the work shown. This maybe something I would like to try in the future with my classes as well.
Computer generated rubrics are also helpful. I can hand out a sheet of paper, or have the students copy the assignment from the board, but most of the time it is lost or misplaced. The computer generated rubrics can be posted on a site or easily accessed for printing off the classroom printer.
I have tried another approach to teaching as well. I have a smartboard with a stylus connected to my computer. This is one way I can show students how to draw (by projecting it up in front of the class) and print off work. I would like to be able to have this device available to students who would like to design on the computer and turn in technology based assignments.
I am trying to stay open minded and use technology as an asset to assessment, classroom assignments and discussions. I am looking forward to see what will be new and exciting to help aid teachers in various aspects of the classroom....even in an elementary art classroom like mine.

Steve Brooten's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology in the schools is now a given. Our students are using computers for projects in nearly every subject taught and few teachers have lessons that do not, in some way, utilize technology. In my classes, all of my daily lessons plans are available online. Parents can access the class site and see what projects are due and what is coming up next. Students missing class can retrieve the assignments and any required paperwork. It is certainly a huge step forward from even ten years ago. However, technology access is not universal. Living in a very high poverty area, many of my students do not have access to a computer outside of school. Even in school, access to computer labs is very limited. That means that a relatively small number of my students have the ability to access the class site easily and many less affluent parents may never see the site.
As a language arts teacher (high school), my students are expected to be completing numerous projects that are supposed to be computer generated, but many do not complete those assignments due to the dearth of computer time available to them. Students who are fortunate enough to have computers in their homes find that assignments can pretty easily be completed. However, the students with no access face multiple issues that cause the gap between students with access and those with limited or no access to increasingly widen. Students with access become more proficient at the use of technology as they have the ability to learn through regular use of that technology. If, on the other hand, a student has no access at home, they often lack the skills to utilize the equipment efficiently even when access is available at school.
The question becomes, how can we eliminate (or at least minimize) the access issues? In some districts all students are provided with various forms of technology. If one lives in a district like mine, universal access is nothing but a dream. Without a significant change in the willingness to fund education at equitable levels, the disparities students experience will become increasingly wider.
Given the inability of many students to access technology, how does that affect assessment? In my opinion, it affects it in a very profound way. Less affluent students are unable to access the very tools that can provide the learning opportunities that other students utilize every day. They do not have the ability to retrieve or submit assignments via the computer. While I might possess the technology to assess online work, the students without access do not have the ability to demonstrate to me that they have achieved the knowledge in a way that other more fortunate students can.
Frustration among the students is obvious, and will continue to spread until we, as a society, decide what direction we truly want education to go and provide the means to achieve that end.

Steve Brooten
Deming, NM

Annette 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Are they suggesting that all material be submitted through technology? As much as the students like technology they love the one on one of a caring adult more. I use technology every day. I use love and understanding even more often. That does not mean that I am a pushover. My students are happy to tell me that my classes are the most difficult they have ever taken, but they always end with the statement, "I learned a lot." What still surprises me is that they come in with D's and F's and leave with A's. To be honest technology has a great deal to do with their success, but I like to think that the human factor matters just as much.

Chad's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

First of all I am going into the field of physical education and to be quite honest technology in schools that I have seen is non existent. Well only in the physical education department. What types of technology can be implemented in this field and how could it be of great use to students that need to learn. In reading the discussions I came across the one by Grant Wiggins and he said "I think sometimes technology is overused and we don't think carefully enough about the evidence we need to give the grade.' I believe that sometimes it might be this way and how can it all balance to be better for everyone.
What I'm trying to get across is in the field of PE there are scarce technology resources and what could I use when I become a teacher in terms of technology?

Shay's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology is a great asset to the classroom and can create an awesome learning experience for students. There are places and times where technology should integrated to a greater extent because it would be useful for both teacher and student. However, I think there are times when technology is taking over the importance of a general education. When students can use spell check and all internet resources, it cheats them out of learning the significance of books, including dictionaries, and writing on paper with a pencil.
Life is changing and learning to operate a computer and other technological gadgets is essential for students outside of the classroom and as they enter the real world. It is the job of the school to create students who are prepared for this life and therefore, we have to teach them to use technology and use it well, but the requirements for a general education can not be overlooked or disregarded as unimportant. I get frustrated with the cell phone fad and the text messaging that is so popular. Typing half words and choppy sentences to spelling correctly and complete sentences has to be a hard transition for students to overcome. Technology is such an advanced helpful tool that not implementing it into classroom curriculum is not an option, but it does not mean other academic skills should be ignored.

Patricia L.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology offers a great potential in the classrooms, especially for assessment. Some of the advantages I see are that students can take tests and be given immediate feedback. Then, the teacher saves times checking these tests, and a record is kept of the students' performance. Teachers and students themselves can keep track of the progress students have made. As Wiggins mentions, it is a good database system that takes no space, but it's available as long as there is a computer present. We are saving tons of paper by using computer assessment instead of paper tests and works. Another advantage is that students can look up samples, new ideas, and information to carry out research projects. For instance, when studying volcanoes, instead of looking at a picture in a book, they can see videos or tridimensional representations of a volcanic eruption. One of the drawbacks that I have experienced is when technology fails and the teacher is not ready with plan B. But overall, technology is becoming an essential tool in education.

Amanda S.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that technology allows the classroom so many opportunities. They can range from typing an essay to searching the internet for sujects that interest our students. The biggest concern would be the monies to help classrooms access these opportunities.

My students come from a poor community and we are lucky if we have a student computer in our classroom. Some of the students have no access to the internet, so these programs we implement that are web-based cannot be accessed from home. This is one of our biggest hurdle right now.

I know that if I could use the internet to help teach my lessons it would create many teaching opportunities, that would enhance the lessons.

Pamela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology could greatly improve our testing methods. I constantly hear that I need to make sure I reach my visual, auditory and textural learners, but the fill in the bubble tests we currently administer do not even begin to reach these students. I have read from several people in this discussion that students prefer the guidance of a live teacher over that of a computer, but why can't we produce an interactive test on the computer where students think it is a fun exercise in which their teacher interacts? I am a little discouraged because we have begun using MAPS testing in our school. We took computer technology and created faster fill in the bubble tests. We are not using technology properly for these students. There is so much available, and we still can't break out of our rut. We need to create visual stimuli that students can react to and make predictions on or show video of situations where concepts apply. Why are we using this wonderful technology to produce the same old thing?

I work with students who cannot or will not read, but they can remember everything they see or hear. They may have difficulty reading but that does not mean they do not understand many of the concepts we are testing them on. Why can't technology overcome these limitations? We have wonderful software that could help students with word pronunciation, but we rarely use it. I think we are living in an age where computer assessment could really meet the needs of students, but no one has applied that technology yet.

Melissa N's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology can play an important role in the classroom, therefore assessment. I agree with Barbara Means, that during lectures students may listen, but that does not mean that they understand. In some cases, technology can help track/show what concepts the student(s) understands. I have a Smart Board in my classroom. It is an awesome teaching instrument and it plays an important role in my classroom. Not only does the Smart Board project things like lectures, but it provides my students with the opportunity to interact with the lessons in many ways. This innovative software helps me teach, lecture, and assess my students in an appropriate amount of time. It is one way I can determine what my students know and do not know. Wiggins states above that assessment is more than quizzes and tests. This is true. Assessment is determining what the students have learned and not learned throughout the entire year. Technology, if used appropriately, can enhance learning and show student progression. However, we can not rely on technology completely. It is still and will be the teacher's job to provide students with the necessary elements for receiving an education. So, when technology is being used, it all comes down to how teachers implement that technology in the classroom.

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