• Looking at assessment through a new lens - ideas for overcoming the challenges of moving assessment online.

    by Jenny Masters

 

Looking at assessment through a new lens - ideas for overcoming the challenges of moving assessment online.

~ Distance Learning ~

APRIL 21st 2020· by Jenny Masters

 

A Short Introduction To This Blog And Its Author by Alison Poot

In another coup for the Australian team, we are absolutely delighted that Jenny Masters has come to work with us as an Implementation Specialist. Jenny has a long history with PebblePad and will be well known to many in the Australasian PebblePad community. I met Jenny on my very first outing as a new PebblePad employee when I accompanied Shane and Colin (PebblePad founders) to a training session for Education at La Trobe University back in 2009!!  Jenny had been instrumental in La Trobe being one of the first PebblePad customers in Australia and she was leading the way in the use of eportfolios in Teacher Education.  In 2015 Jenny moved to the University of Tasmania (slowly making her way closer to her now home of King Island, located in the Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania) and once again played a key role in the implementation of PebblePad as an enterprise platform at UTAS.  Jenny’s understanding of eportfolio pedagogy is second to none and we are very excited that she is joining us to support customers in the southern states and share her expertise with Teacher Education programmes across our region.  In Jenny’s inaugural blog post, she draws on her substantial experience to discuss the challenges of moving assessment online and what PebblePad can contribute in this time of Covid-19.

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To me, it seems logical that we ask students to engage in learning tasks where the assessment is a natural part of the process.

 

 
 
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Over thirty-five or so years as an educator, I have constantly grappled with the most effective way to assess learning.  The classic “assessment for/as/of learning” model resonates with me, and over the years I have progressively moved towards the notion of assessment AS learning.  To me, it seems logical that we ask students to engage in learning tasks where the assessment is a natural part of the process. In this context, the learner learns through the process of building the assessment artefact and, conversely, the product is tangible evidence of the learning that has taken place.

This affiliation with assessment AS learning is probably why I gravitated towards portfolio-based assessment and the use of PebblePad as my go-to learning tool. The process of students progressively creating PebblePad assets to represent their learning journey seemed logical, sensible and empowering. This is particularly applicable to my field of teacher education, as all registered teachers are required to maintain a professional portfolio to evidence their learning and expertise.

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Formalised and summative - assessment of learning

Of course, not all assessment is AS learning. In fact, the most common format of assessment at the university level is assessment OF learning. This is where the students engage in learning activities first and then are tested to see what they have learnt. This assessment could be an essay or another task, or it might be a test, quiz or an exam. At the extreme end of this scale is the formal “invigilated” or supervised exam, which is conducted in a specific place, at a specific time, with no or few materials allowed. While learning management software can deliver quiz type tasks, online delivery is seen to be problematic for formal exams and therefore even students learning remotely are required to attend an exam centre in person where they can be supervised.

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Under the shadow of the current Covid-19 crisis, as we scramble to rethink teaching and learning structures, the concept of using online tools to deliver assessment tasks including exams has to be considered.  While PebblePad was designed as a reflective ‘AS learning’ tool, the flexibility of PebblePad means it can be used in lots of different ways, including an exam type task. In this scenario, a workbook or template could act as an exam paper that is delivered to students at a set date and time via the resource centre in ATLAS and is then ‘handed in’ via an assignment in a workspace that is set to lock the workbook as soon as it is submitted. The assignment space would close, say, three hours after the workbook is released, therefore emulating a timed exam. The student couldn’t choose a particular time slot for their exam, as this functionality isn’t available in PebblePad and, of course, there is no guarantee that the student doesn’t have notes or web access, but this is similar to an ‘open book’ style exam that might be offered in an exam period.

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Under the shadow of the current Covid-19 crisis, as we scramble to rethink teaching and learning structures, the concept of using online tools to deliver assessment tasks including exams has to be considered.

 
 
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Just because PebblePad can be used in this way, does this mean this is a suitable option? A formal exam is often justified because this is one of few ways in which an examiner can be assured that the work has been completed solely by the student.  The format, however, tends to have limitations of its own. When a student is isolated in place and time, they are restricted to the recall of memorised content. There is little opportunity to research and extend their ideas, nor is there sufficient time to really reflect on or think through their response. Further, the skills required for this type of assessment are different. Students will do better if they have a good memory and can rote learn, and also if they can write or type quickly. It also helps if a student is able relax in this context. Many students become stressed by formal exams and are unable to perform well, even though they may have engaged with and learnt the required content during the study period. Because of these parameters, formal exams have developed into a genre of their own. Questions may be multiple choice, short answer or essay but they are usually quite dependent on remembering facts.  If we looked at exams through the ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’ lens, most exam questions belong in the lower end of the continuum and relate to ‘remembering’. 

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Rethinking assessment design

A low Bloom’s Taxonomy question might be suitable and even necessary in an invigilated exam, but it isn’t such a useful device for testing in a non-supervised setting. We know that if students are asked to respond to this type of question when they are working independently or online, they are more likely to ‘cheat’ by using reference material anyway and/or look for ways to give themselves longer than the allocated time. Sometimes we try and close this loophole by asking students (or another person) to declare that the work was completed under the specified conditions, or even by using technology that locks down Internet access during the time, but this isn’t really very practical or effective. Rather than trying to deliver the regular exam in an open format, it makes far more sense to redesign the assessment task so that it is suited to the independent setting and, more importantly, it provides an authentic means for the student to demonstrate their learning and understanding of content.

Imagine you have been asked to convert your formal exam into an alternative online task with very short notice. Given our current situation, you probably don’t have to imagine this! You might keep the same or similar Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for your assessment but you will need to redesign what you ask the students to do. Firstly, you will need to acknowledge that students will have access to reference materials that they will use to help them answer your questions. Rather than seeing this as a negative, you could actually incorporate it into your task. You could make the first part of your task a research component. Rather than leaving students unguided to wander around the Internet, you might like to scaffold the process by giving them keywords or even hyperlinks to key reference sources.  This could be in the first part of the assessment task workbook in PebblePad or a pre-task template. You can also provide response blocks for students to record key information and ideas. This may include recording ‘facts’, but it should also be their synthesis of concepts and/or interpretation of information. Then the actual writing or response task could ask the student to apply the knowledge they have to a particular context. This might be one or more hypothetical scenarios that you give them or perhaps a case study.  You could provide this as a written piece, but the multimodal nature of PebblePad means that this could include images, an audio byte or a video. Alternatively, you might ask the student to apply the information themselves and develop a synthesised response. They could write their own hypothetical scenario or put together a sequence that shows how theory works in practice. The advantage of asking students to work with information in this way is that it asks them show that they understand the concepts and can apply the theory to a context. This raises the activity on the Bloom’s continuum and ensures that googling for ‘the answer’ isn’t going to work for this assessment task.

Image shows a snapshot of PebblePad's Assessment Space, ATLAS
PebblePad offers educators versatility & flexibility in assessment design.
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Of course, this task is somewhat different, and it becomes more of a hybrid between a regular assignment and an exam.  The difference might be that this task does have a shorter time between the students seeing the question/s and being asked to produce a response. This format is more like an ‘open-book’ exam or even a ‘take home’ exam. A time restricted task can ensure that students focus on the task and respond promptly, but you also need to be aware that working at home needs some flexibility, as students have different computer access, family commitments etc.  Typically, this type of task may have a window of a day or so, rather than set hours. Overly tight timeframes will simply cause unnecessary angst for students who have less capacity to cope with stringent restrictions.

PebblePad is an amazing pedagogical tool as it enables solutions for teaching and learning without prescribing any set approach. However, this plasticity comes with a great responsibility for educators to design tasks carefully and be mindful of outcomes and consequences, both intentional and unintentional. The most important aspect of any assessment task is that it is fit for purpose and will allow learners to demonstrate what they have learnt, what they know and how they can apply it.

If you'd like to hear more about how PebblePad can support learning and assessment online, then why not visit our PebbleVision video channel. From the flipped classroom to extra and co-curricular learning, through to personal tutoring and authentic assessment, the channel has been designed to spark ideas to help you achieve whatever is at the top of your teaching, learning and assessment ‘ambition-ometer’. Especially helpful in the current climate when we’re all looking for inspiration and new ideas.

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Author

Jenny Masters is a teacher educator with over 30 years of experience who is “into” digital technologies, with a specialist focus on the use of digital technologies in education. She has used ePortfolios and PebblePad for many years to support pre-service teachers as they plan, reflect on, and celebrate their learning journeys and, luckily for us, she is now putting that expertise to use in her role as Implementation Specialist.

Jenny is based on pristine King Island in the middle of Bass Strait and is living the dream – a couple of hectares with a tiny house, off-the-grid, subsistence gardening and free-ranging chickens. Fortunately, an awesome Internet connection via satellite means that she can have the best of both worlds and working with PebblePad is fitting in just beautifully with the life-style.

 

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