Should we be rethinking how we assess learning in schools when everything is online and available?


A temporary condition or a lasting change?

After schools around the word closed down, in Norway on Friday the 13th, we really did not know what we were facing, how long it would last, and how it would end. We still don’t. What we have done in schools these first three weeks, marks a radical change in how teachers are teaching and how students are learning. And in Norway, many schools have mastered this very well. We are now done with phases 1 and 2 in this transformation and as I see it, we are now moving towards phase 3.  Let me explain what I mean by that:

  1. Phase One, getting all our devices in order, logging in to the different platforms and establishing how we want to communicate with our students. Many have chosen Microsoft Teams, many use Zoom and our Learning Management system is working well too. In our case Its:learning.
  2. Phase two, content. If teachers already were working like this, the content part was easy. In addition, our largest publishers provide free online content, and many other private tech firms were soon to follow. I’m sure this is the same in most countries, and I did share a list from UNESCO in this post about it. In Norway we have Unibok, Ask undervisning and NDLA. To mention some.
  3. Phase three, is where we are now. Assessment. How do we make sure that our students are learning? How do we provide opportunities for valid assessments? Validity is defined as the extent to which an assessment accurately measures what it is intended to measure.

Before planning our lessons

One of the challenges in teaching is designing, and to be a good designer you have to think about what you’re trying to accomplish and craft a combination of the content and the instructional methods, but also the assessment.  It is smart to start with the question, what do I want the students to be able to do, how will I  know that they master the content?”.  Likely, it is a change in knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Then you have to ask how you are going to assess this? What’s the evidence of the students reaching the goals?  Student feedback is very important here.

This is what they call backward design. Instead of jumping to the activities, the teachers have to plan backward. When the student knows the material, what does it look like? What’s the evidence that they got it? What’s the evidence that they not only know it but can apply it in new and different conditions. So you have to think about how it’s going to end up, and what it’s going to look like. It is called “Backward Design“, and it is the preferred way to work with the new competency goals that are being introduced in Norway this fall. Working like this, you have to continuously check to make sure students are progressing toward their goals.

I truly believe that student voice and choice is even more important now and that students should know what they’re learning and why. It makes it easier for them to understand the workload and know what is expected of them.

Lesson design in a digital environment

  1. Meet your students in Microsoft Teams or Zoom at regular times each day. Let everyone have a chance to talk about what they did last time, how it worked out and where they are in their learning process. Many teachers have surveys to make sure everyone knows what to do and are comfortable with the workload.
  2. Introduce the topic for the day. Even if we are not in the same room, the teacher can explain the material using Zoom and whiteboard, PowerPoint presentations, YouTube, Khan Academy, instructional videos, group discussions. When using Zoom the students can raise their hands when something is unclear.  Zoom seems to be the place to find students these days. 
  3. Divide the students into groups using this function in Zoom. Let them work on the problems and ask for instruction when this is required. Using groups it is easy for the teacher to help students in the groups and it is easier for the students to ask for help.
  4. Peer assessment is a good way to start the work on an essay, report or project. Read more about the impact of Peer Assessment here.

Assessment in a digital environment

  1. Do not plan your assessments on facts that are Googleable. If you are looking for fact-checking, a multiple-choice test (mystical choice test) with a time limit is preferable, but should not be the basis for the grading in any subject.
  2. Teachers are often worried that students are getting help when taking tests at home. It is perhaps easier to know that the students did this on their own if the tasks are designed around comparing and discussing material learned in class. It is also a good idea to supplement any written activity with a short individual online questioning using Zoom or Microsoft Teams. This is helpful when you want to check for authenticity. This is especially important in subjects like foreign languages where Google Translate is a tempting option. My advice; more focus on oral competencies.

Ways for students to show that they master the content in a digital environment;

  1. Podcast,
  2. Blogs,
  3. PowerPoint presentations with voice over,
  4. Students making Kahoot questions to be used with classmates, you can see what they know by the questions they make
  5. Recorded group discussions,
  6. Videos of activities, like in sports, to explain the “what, how and why”.
  7. Sharing recipes and instructions on how to cook food from the countries they are studying.
  8. Offering to help classmates who struggle as teaching assistants.
  9. Written assignments with a clear guideline on how the students have used sources.
  10. In foreign languages, compare texts that are authentic and text translated by Google.
  11. Making videos of experiments in chemistry and biology,

 

 

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