George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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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Scott Kittelson's picture

I understand and agree with the positive aspects of colaboration and will be applying this as a final project in my engineering class. I have seen the quality of assignment and projects increase in groups, but I feel that the grading then seems to be somewhat subjective. Some students always seem to be doing more than others. I was curious about how you grade these students?

Ryan Siegle's picture

As our world changes, so do our learners. The title of digital natives encourages the thought that students don't just want 21st century learning opportunities, but they NEED these opportunities. Many web 2.0 activities allow for such collaboration. By implementing google applications into the classroom, students will also have the chance to have real-time input to group projects whether they are together or not. As an elementary teacher, the problem I see with implementing 21st century assessment is that most teachers are considered digital immigrants. They come from a time before many technology enhancements. How can we as educators integrate such collaboration tools so it is not just an effective tool for learners but also serves as an effective formative assessment tool for teachers?

Andrew Marcinek's picture
Andrew Marcinek
Director of Technology and Co-founder, Boston, MA

[quote]I understand and agree with the positive aspects of colaboration and will be applying this as a final project in my engineering class. I have seen the quality of assignment and projects increase in groups, but I feel that the grading then seems to be somewhat subjective. Some students always seem to be doing more than others. I was curious about how you grade these students?[/quote]

@Scott - Think about applying the same idea to a business. Let's say a software startup. You have a team of 4 working on the project. Each member of the team makes a different salary. It is the challenge of the group to hold each other accountable. This is why I have my students create and assign group roles. I usually ask each group member to grade each other's performance. I will have them write up a short summary of what each member did and then compare the four responses and factor this element into the grading process. However, you can usually tell by the finished product what group had the best chemistry and who really worked hard.

Heidi Siwak's picture
Heidi Siwak
Grade 6 Language, Social Studies and French Teacher

It is an expectation in my province as part of best practices implementation that students participate fully in the assessment process and that peer feedback is part of that process. Students need to be trained in how to give effective feedback - feedback that's useful. All teachers in my school are in the process of developing methods for this; I have to say I like it. It is an effective way to develop skills. I'm looking forward to having students who have had several years of this practice.

Maggie Williams's picture
Maggie Williams
Theater Education Student

I am in the process of be becoming a secondary level teacher and collaboration is a huge topic. However there is one major part that I feel has been left out, the collaboration between different subjects. I am in the process of writing a unit that allows a cross collaboration between three different subjects. If we are going to ask the students to collaborate I think it is important to show them that this happens on the teacher level as well. If the teachers give them a model to look at the statements of " I don't know" or "we don't have any ideas" will have to be pushed aside. The teacher can then say, "neither did we. We had to brain storm". This may help students, one not feel alone, and two make them want to do better.

sushma sharma's picture
sushma sharma
Lecturer Govt Girls School Jabalpur India

It was well said and we should remember it,"united we stand divided we fall".When we work together we are there as separate parts and when we are put together we become an Engine[in real an engine is made of a boiler,pistons .....]and this engine is used for driving,carrying,and doing so many jobs.Now the parts do not ask how important they are,because every one is incomplete without the other.So when we are doing collobrative assessment,we only assess that they can work together.

SP's picture

I was just reading an academic paper that argues that students have under-developed group working skills. We need a better way of training our students to develop group project skills because what we're doing now isn't working.

Connie Carroll's picture
Connie Carroll
I am a school counselor with 28 years experience in 3 different states.

Sal Pellettieri's comments regarding collaborative skills hit home with me as a middle school counselor. He spoke about students with under-developed group working skills and how difficult this can be in group work. He also talks about a better way of training students to develop group project skills because what we have now isn't working. I can not agree that our training isn't working rather that it is not working with all students. I am pulled into to classrooms to mediate during group projects when members have reached a stalemate and the progress of the group is stalled. Often, I find it is a difference in communication styles, trust and knowing how to be assertive rather than aggressive. Agreed, I am at a middle school and MOST time the 12-13 year old skills are not as developed as adults; however, I see a huge void in the teaching of group skills. There seems to be little done with teaching cultural values and an understanding of the give and take necessary for success. I have been able to give students some training on non-verbal communication-team work and listening skills as they contribute to a group project

SP's picture

Connie, great points. I totally agree. I've been building a site, Enter The Group ,which is designed to provide students and teachers with a platform to manage their group work online. The vision is to be a place where students can learn a process and develop organizational skills as well. Please contact me at if you'd like to chat more. Thanks!

Annie Beasley's picture
Annie Beasley
High School Teacher from St. Paul, MN

Collaborative learning is something that I always hated as a student because I felt like I was always left to do all the work. But now as an educator, I see the extreme importance of including this into my curriculum. Your 5 step process and emphasizing that each student has a role will be very helpful for me as I work to incorporate these ideas into my teaching practices. I am hoping to implement collaborative learning teams that work together throughout the year that will have multiple opportunities for assessment utilizing current technology.

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