“Did they learn anything? Could they have learned more, faster and in more meaningful ways with some other method of teaching?” It can be tough to tell, but technology is enabling both instructors and students to assess themselves and answer these questions. When district leaders, school administrators, teachers, and even students can extract meaningful insights, the teaching and learning cycle can be transformed.
The Basis Of Assessment
The purpose of assessment is to diagnose student strengths and weaknesses, monitor progress, provide feedback, measure and report achievements—and use aggregated assessment data to make course improvements. Both students’ commitment to their learning and instructors’ course activities factor into optimal learning and growth.
Therefore, a combination of formative and summative assessments can help evaluate these areas. Formative assessment gathers feedback throughout the learning process, like early course evaluations or submitting essay outlines before the final paper, to guide potential improvements. Summative assessments, like final exams, assess proficiency at the end of a course.
It is also important to distinguish assessment from evaluation. Assessment is the collection of data before, during, and after instruction, for example through tests and quizzes, while evaluation is the act of making judgments at these time points based on the data. Technical requirements of assessment includes that it is valid, reliable, and bias-free.
Utilizing Data Sources
Data is a relatively new buzzword in education. Sources for data include student information systems (SISs), learning management systems (LMSs), educational apps and adaptive platforms, digital textbooks and content, and mandated and optional tests delivered online.
In 8 Ways Machine Learning Will Improve Education, Tom Vander Ark provides an overview of the machine learning and big data strategies that are improving learning, including examples of learning systems, programs, and apps. These tools can assist in assessment at all levels of the educational system.
At the district level, tools like the BrightBytes Clarity platform assesses technology integration across a school district according to Classroom, Access, Skills and Environment (CASE) criteria. For teachers, LMS dashboards provide actionable data on student engagement, level of understanding, effectiveness of shared content library resources, assignment, and discussion activity. Though instructors are ultimately responsible for assessment of whether learning has actually occurred, technology allows students to assess their performance at various points throughout the learning process, such as through online quizzes.
Progress In The Classroom
It’s traditionally been tough for teachers to assess whether learning is actually taking place in the classroom. While a few students may respond to questions posed, and looks of uncertainty or confusion can sometimes be discerned, there has really been no good way to assess learning in a valid and reliable way. Technology is changing this.
It’s easier to assess online learning. As students interact with lessons through computers, laptops or other digital devices, their actions and answers can be readily captured, assessed, and reported—in individual and aggregated ways. From time allocation to strategy use, online systems can collect more information on how students learn than manual methods.
Technology enables assessment of both in-class and online performance and can be applied in ways that support individualized learning. Teachers have access to both traditional and new types of assessment tools. While pre- and post-tests were once the traditional way of gathering before and after data, now instant response polling can provide the same data quicker and more efficiently. Similarly, streamlined feedback within assignments can replace or supplement conferences, and journals can be kept online in discussion boards.
Additionally, technology can play a role in reporting student progress. Digital assessment platforms, like Edcite, allow teachers to create tests and lectures for their students and provide feedback immediately. MasteryConnect’s MasteryTracker incorporates standards tracking and benchmark assessment, along with remediation for concepts.
However, despite these new tools, some teachers are still arguing for a focus on student learning that goes beyond the grade. Educator and Hack Learning creator Mark Barnes says he recorded feedback and conversations he had with students instead of grade points in order to measure competency.
Takeaway: There are a variety of ways to assess student learning at the collective (district), classroom and individual level using a range of traditional and technology-enabled assessment tools. Technology has made it easier to capture data at the point of learning, both inside classrooms and online. Learning management systems and tools can help to capture, aggregate and analyze the data to improve teaching methods and, ultimately, learning outcomes.
1. “Formative vs. Summative Assessment” Carnegie Mellon University. N.d.
2. “Assessment, Measurement and Evaluation Overview” Educational Psychology Interactive. October 2007.
3. “Classroom Assessment” Florida Center for Instructional Technology. N.d.
4. “8 Ways Machine Learning Will Improve Education” Education Week. November 25, 2015.
5. “High ‘Return-on-Learning’” MIT News. March 1, 2015.
6. “Wheaton College Overhauls LMS with Schoology” eCampus News. April 20, 2016.
7. “Assessment: Measure What Matters” Department of Education Office of Educational Technology. N.d.
8. “Interactive Lessons Help Prep Students” Lancaster Eagle-Gazette. March 11, 2016.
9. “Types of Formative Assessments and Tools” MasteryConnect. 2016.
10. “Used in 85% of US Districts, MasteryConnect Raises $5M From Zuckerberg Education Ventures” EdSurge. September 22, 2015.
11. “Panel: Ditch Grades Now, Focus on Student Learning” The Journal. March 15, 2016.