2/05/2012

Digital Common Formative assessments

Teachers around the U.S. are struggling with just how to create common formative assessments. Of course, it's a lot more complicated than just coming up with a little quiz or thinking up an exit ticket at the end of class. A lot of the work deals with meetings within our department. We get together to discuss the scope and sequence of what we teach. Then we have to generate the actual assessment.

Once the assessment is deployed, of course it has to be analysed. We once again have to get together with our department to figure out how our students are doing compared to the students of Mr. Smith down the hall, for example. If my students didn't do as well, I need to figure out what Mr. Smith does better so that my students learn more.

Typically this kind of work leads to improved education. Its extremely valuable. You've got to admit, though- this is a whole lot of work.

Technology can make common formative assessment far easier and often more productive. Let's start by looking at the creation. To make any assessment common requires collaboration on a single file and there are some great online tools to make that happen.


Google docs: This tool provides teachers a way to work on the same document at the same time online. When a group works together on a single document, everyone can see what everyone else is typing, teachers can ask questions of each other or make comments in a side bar as the assessment is being created. On the other hand, if everyone just wants to work on the document when they have time, that's fine as well. 

Edmodo: This is a safe, secure social network for teachers and students. Individuals in a  department can post questions as status updates. Other teachers can then make comments on those questions or suggest modifications. These conversations would be restricted to the department. No one else in the world would be allowed to see these interactions without explicit permission.

Skydrive: For those of you who work in an exclusively Microsoft world, this is your best bet. Much like Google, Skydrive is a way of working on Word, Excel and Powerpoint projects collaboratively.  Your team may want Skydrive instead because formating does not carry over well. While Google docs is probably the best and most reliable cloud storage to date, converting documents to their format can be a real pain.

Now that you've all decided on the nature of the assessment, its time to present it to the students. There are several digital tools that can help you with that.

Clicker technology (eInstruction and Promethean)- This is probably one of the fastest and most useful tools available for conducting formative assessments. There are a two main reasons. First, students usually enjoy it. You don't have to worry about them just putting in an answer because the reward for getting the right answer is "winning". Students who are all voting simultaneously get to be part of the group that got it right whereas those who do self paced tests get to win at what is in many ways a video game. Second, the data is stored immediately and can be analysed in useful ways.

Online quizzes: (Edmodo, Openclass, others)- There are numerous free sites which allow teachers to create sophisticated quizzes for students to take online. The advantage here is that students can use any internet ready device. The big disadvantage is that these devices are often more difficult to come by (you have to check out the laptops or the iPods for example).

Soapbox: This is a great site for gaging the engagement of a class or giving quick quizes. Since there is no way to tie results to any one student, however, it serves as more of a "quick and dirty" digital assessment of a whole class. Soapbox works best if the students are already using laptops for your lesson.

When the data is collected, it's time to get the department together again to go over results. Instead of forcing everyone to gather in the same place at the same time, you could go back to the collaboration tools I mentioned above. These tools make it easy for teachers to add comments next to each question in the assessment noting the percentage of students who got the question right. They could also mention useful strategies for teaching that concept.

If you still want some face to face interaction but your having a hard time getting everyone together in the same place, consider Google Plus. This social network allows you to hold video conferences at the same time you work on a Google doc. So you can see and speak to one another while writing on the same document.

Common formative assessments hold so much power to improve learning. The digital tools I've mentioned here can make the creation, deployment and analysis of those assessments far easier than ever before.