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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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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think Barbara Wiggins did a great job of addressing the role of technology in assessment. She suggested that technology be used as a form of assessment; however, it does not need to feel like an assessment. Students can be assessed and actually enjoy the process.
Teachers can assess students by asking them to conduct research, type a short essay, prepare a PowerPoint presentation, use a spreadsheet, compile an electronic portfolio, etc. The possibilities are endless. It is just a matter of the teacher being creative when coming up with student assessments.
Technology also plays an important role in analyzing past test scores. This is a great way for teachers to assess student knowledge at the beginning of the semester or school year. Teachers are able to get a better understanding of where they need to start. The utilization of technology is also an effective way to track student progress throughout the semester or school year.
Teachers are also able to provide effective feedback through the utilization of technology. If students have typed a report, essay, etc. on the computer, the teacher can open up the document and provide feedback by highlighting important points, using a different font for comments, etc. It also allows the teacher to provide feedback in a timely manner.
Most students enjoy using technology in the classroom, so if it sparks student interest, use it!

Paul Adcock's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mr. Alberts
I agree with you that the Web can be used by educators to test students at a low cost, but what I would like to see in such a program, is that the programmers set up the system in such a way that it allows the teachers to make modifications to the test. Each teacher has his own goals and objectives that he teaches to- and for the test to be reliable and fair the teacher has to be able to make minor modifications to the test, to make sure that he is testing to his objectives. I know this will make the scaling more difficult, as not all the student are taking exactly the same test; but is there not a way to set up the testing in such a way as to allow the teacher to modify the test and still make the scaling possible?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really agree with Grant Wiggins about using portfolios. I believe that creating a portfolio is a great idea when it comes to tracking a student's progress but also like Grant Wiggins said who wants to look through the whole thing. By having an electronic portfolio a teacher can pick certain things that the student has been struggling on in the past and compare it to the future. This is an excellent idea because teachers do not have the time to go through every little page of every student to find out if they are improving.
I also agree with Barbara Means about if students use technology while doing assessments they do not think of them as tests. It is more like a fun activity that they can do and in the mean time the teacher can monitor their strengths and weaknesses.

Kristy Hays's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that technology is the way of the future. There is no stopping the increasing demands of technology in the classroom and for assessment purposes. Teachers are looking for ideas and ways to make their job easier. Students are looking for ways to make learning more exciting. School districts are looking for ways to gather data. Technology is going to meet the needs of a new generation of schools and assessments. The role of technology is endless in providing teachers with different ways to informally and formally assess their students. Remote desktops, tracking changes in word documents, palm pilots, and smart boards are just the beginning. Teachers and administrators will also benefit by tracking assessment results on the Internet. They are able to view results more quickly than by mail and they are able to use the various charts and graphs provided by the test company to analyze the test data and to see their students' strengths and weaknesses. There is no question about the role technology plays in education. It is an important tool that will continue to improve the quality of both instruction and assessment.

Beth Hathaway's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Grant Wiggins and Barbara Means bring up helpful points about technology providing an important tool in terms of organizing and analyzing test data and providing new and exciting ways for the students to experience assessment and for the teacher to examine it. My question within the realm of assessment technology is, is there any danger in making so many aspects of school entertaining? I know we are only talking about assessment here but it seems like there is a general push toward making school and learning fun, no matter what the context. Are there important skills being lost in the process? I wonder sometimes if the experience of quietly reading a physical book and journaling or essay-writing without any animated, interactive, colorful technology is becoming a lost art. But, maybe it never was an art. I worry that some of the entertaining factors of assessment or instruction that are entering the field lack needed preparation for the mundane parts of the real world.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the comments above. Technology is vital in schools. I believe that technology can make assessments easier and cheaper cost as Grant's comment explains. Technology is also only going to get better. As it improves, the improvements will slowly take place in the school systems as well as the world. However, I do believe that technology and the computer will not replace the teacher. I know that I learn better, if I have a teacher face-to-face with me. There is a relationship that grows in a face-to-face classroom, that computers can not bring into educating.

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