George Lucas Educational Foundation

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

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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 comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Ron S's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In the classroom students need to learn how to use their resources such as technology, but we as teachers need to make sure that we do not let it take over the academic process. Technology can be a very useful tool in many different classrooms however it can be overused just as Wiggins states. Sometimes students may use technology to do the thinking for them instead of acquiring the knowledge on their own. This is why it is the teacher's responsibility to educate the students on skills they will need in order to pass later assessments.

Courtney Reyes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Everyone knows that technology, in many forms, must be integral within our educational system. Students, teachers, and parents benefit and learn from the use of technology and these benefits are great. Having technology available to assess student understanding is important and time saving. I agree with the comments by Barbara Means about using technology in an unobtrusive manner to "capture student performance". As a future educator, I am concerned about providing my students with as much learning time as possible. If we can use technology to help save time with assessing students, analyzing, and collecting data, and storing information, then we will have more time for preparing and working with students. We also must face the fact that, although our parents and grandparents may not, our students respond to technology better than other methods of communication. Watching videos, TV, DVD's, working and playing on the computer, using email, texting, tweeting, surfing the internet are all learning tools that can be utilized to get students to focus on concepts. Using technology to support and enhance assessment and learning is essential for both student and teacher success at all levels.

Kat B.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Technology can enhance the learning process for students and teachers. But, if we rely too much on technology, especially as an assessment tool we can create problems with student learning. Bruce Alberts stated this when he spoke about his biochemistry students who were more concerned about what was going to be on the scantron/multiple choice tests and memorizing those topics rather than really learning and comprehending the information being presented. I think we can use technology as an extra tool to aid with student assessment, but it should not tbe the only way we assess student learning and comprehension.

I'm all for trying to incorporate technology in the classroom if it is available, but there are many districts around the country where access to computers and the internet is limited or still not available. I'm not saying we should dismiss technology as an assessment tool, but that we should use technology to aid and enhance our assessment activities. I thing technology in the classroom is a great thing. However, "technology" doesn't necessarily mean computers, but video cameras, overhead projectors and such as stated by Grant Wiggins, and I think we get caught up with computers being the only acceptable form of technology we can use in our classrooms.

Monica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I not only like the statement made by Grant Wiggens, but agree with him that, "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." So many times I feel that the school system is so focused on the traditional quizzes and tests and as educators of a techno savvy world we have a responsibility to create opportunities to incorporate the use of technology (and this does not only imply computer use).
This is not to say that we should do away with paper and pencil assessments it is just another reminder that decisions about students should be based on multiple pieces of information rather than a single assessment. I know that at my son's elementary school they do an assessment with all grade levels at the beginning of the school year and again at the end that is a computerized test and from my understanding the students don't complain because it is interactive (they wear headphones), it is colorful, some animation, and it is more game like and most students enjoy it. The increase in technology access has led us into a new era.

Brit's picture

Technology has become such a large part of our society, and it needs to be implemented into the classrooms in order to prepare students for their post academic careers. I agree with Grant Wiggins when he says, "the student is bringing together visual, three-dimensional, and paper-and-pencil work". Technology has the ability to influence the multiple intelligences that students have, whereas other teaching strategies like lecture only cater to the auditory learners.

I also agree with Wiggins that teachers need to " be able to document and have a trace of what the student has accomplished and how the student got there". Throughout my college experience, I have been assembling a working portfolio with dividers, artifacts, reflections and personal paperwork. There are students working on their portfolios at various universities, but their portfolios are purely electronic. Wouldn't it be nice if a prospect teacher walked into an interview with their entire portfolio on a disc? I would be thrilled if my chemistry high school students brought in their notes and binders on disc, but there are some problems with this approach, however, in that the school would need to be able to supply computers for EVERY student.

Either way, technology needs to be present in the classroom for students and teachers to further their learning. Technology is presenting new possibilities for the classroom in teaching strategies, as well as learning strategies.

Latishia Zamora's picture

Assessments and student portfolio's are two examples of why technology is needed in schools and how a teacher's curriculum can benefit from it. All three individuals made some great points on how technology can advance a student's needs. I like the way Vice President Barbara Means explains how using "technology supported-type assessment" can be fun and not represent a test. Using technology to assess students is the new way and age to get students involved. I do believe we need hands on activities and interaction among students; however technology can present a new outlook on how we use assessment.

It's practical thinking to use technology in planning, delivering, and assessing student learning. Let's remind ourselves we are only using technology as tools use to help students obtain curricular goals. I believe a lot of teachers have the misconception that we will be replacing the pencil and paper with technology and that's not the case. Technology has made developing lesson plans and learning outcomes easier and more assessable to the teacher. The most important benefit from technology would be maintaining records for students and exploring data.

JoLyn's picture

I too like how Vice President Barbara Means explains how using "technology supported-type assessment" can be fun and not represent a test. Back in High School I remember doing a WebQuest. At the time I didn't think that it was a test, I just thought that it was a fun activity. The WebQuest was a change of pace--it was something new and different from what we usually did. Looking back now, the WebQuest was actually a form of assessment.

Whether we like it or not, technology is playing a huge role in today's classrooms. Before we know it, we'll have what Vice President Means was talking about "some kind of a handheld computing device". I too believe that we are in a time that handheld devices will be a part of the classroom, and with the invention of iPods we are one step closer to that reality.

jamie Wood's picture
jamie Wood
ninth grade P.E. teacher from Deming,N.M.

I liked what Barbara Means said about the students not understanding anything after the note taking was conducted. More often than not that is where the teacher feels their job is done. Their is no more 'teacher do' in school's these days, but the reality is the student leaves the classroom confused. Their needs to be more explaining before and after an assignment is given. Their are two types of learners; those who learn orally and those who learn visually. The gap needs to be shortned in order for our children to get the best from an education.
Technology is a greta way for students to get both. It opens the imagination and gives students a way to get more knowledge that they so desperately need.

Scotty Crespin's picture

I agree with Barbara Means that we need to harness technology and use it to our advantage in the classrooms. For example at some colleges professors are able to ask questions in the middle of class and students use a remote to answer. The teacher is then able to see what percentage answered correctly. This technology allows teachers the opportunity to assess their students' comprehension as they teach, and lets them know when they need to better explain a topic or when the class has the concepts. If we can use technology in ways like this it can only help to improve the learning process for our students, and help them to be more successful in the classroom.

Danielle's picture

Technology can be a very useful tool in the classroom and at the rate in which our technology is growing it would be foolish not to use all the available resources that we have in order to enhance our students learning. With technology we can address all different types of learning styles, provide fun and interesting activities and assessments, and provide multiple resources that we would not otherwise have available in the classroom. I also like Grant Wiggins suggestion of using technology as a database system. It would be very useful to have a record of the student's performance and to be able to see how that student has progressed over time. Requiring a portfolio like this could be a useful alternative to testing or other typical assessment means and it still shows students progress and understanding as well as giving us a much broader scope of their achievements.

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