Assessment for Learning

March 4, 2011

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  lloydcrew 

In March 2010 Professor Joseph Madaus from the Neag School of Education and Nicole McClure, a graduate student in our department and then member of our course, shared with us why and how we can implement Universal Design for Instruction in our teaching. About 25 minutes and 30 seconds into our recorded USTREAM session, Professor Madaus tells us that “UDI is the proactive design and use of inclusive instructional strategies that benefit a broad range of learners including students with disabilities.” But what does this look like in actual practice?

This Wednesday we will have the opportunity to learn about Universal Design for Learning from Ira Socol, who blogs at SpeEdChange, where he takes a critical look at our current educational systems and what we can and should do to create learning environments where all students can succeed. We’ll be meeting with Ira Socol on October 26, 2011 at 11:30 a.m. EST in LearnCentral and welcome others to join us. Prior to our session, we’ll submit our questions to Ira based on our readings for this week and our own experiences, interests and realities. During our face-to-face time we’ll take a look at some best practice examples of UDL in college-level courses.

Our materials for this week follow a parallel thread, in that they call into question traditional assessment models, from end-of-semester exams and teacher-driven assessments to the traditional grading structures found in classrooms from kindergarten to graduate school. We also have several examples in which educators have used socially mediated technologies to provide more personalized and meaningful learning, as well as teacher reflections on their efficacy. What do you think about these readings? Do traditional grading structures no longer have a place in our current and future learning environments? If so, what could take its place?


Assessment for Learning

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy

Photo Credit: Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy by dkuropatwa

This week’s materials call into question traditional assessment models, from end-of-semester exams and teacher-driven assessments to the traditional grading structures found in classrooms from kindergarten to graduate school. We also have several examples in which educators have used socially mediated technologies to provide more personalized and meaningful learning, as well as teacher reflections on their efficacy. What do you think about what you’ve read this week? Do traditional grading structures no longer have a place in our current and future learning environments? Is it even possible to move away from what Batson calls our “current legacy structure of testing and evaluation“?

As I’ve noted in a previous post on educational trends:

Well over a half a century ago, education psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed a way to frame learning goals by identifying the key intellectual skills necessary for learning to occur. Still in use today, the 1990’s saw its modification to reflect an emphasis on the active nature of learning.1 What you see above is the latest iteration of this classification system. As you’ll note, the visualization of this learning taxonomy shows the lowest cognitive level occupying the largest amount of real estate with the higher cognitive domains of analyzing, evaluating and creating occupying the smallest amount. Interestingly, Bloom found in the 1950’s that 95% of test questions only asked students to think at the lowest level of learning, information retrieval.2

It appears, however, that for enduring understandings to take place, we need to provide our students the opportunity to engage with concepts in multiple contexts:

Understanding the Concept

This week, as part of the process of brainstorming our individual classroom projects, we’ll consider the why, what and how of the assessment piece of our project. I’d like you to consider the following questions as you develop your learning experience:

  • Firstly, what key skills, understandings, and/or attitudes do you want your students to possess as the result of this project?
  • Secondly, what would serve as evidence of that mastery? This is where the assessment piece comes in. What performance tasks, projects, quizzes, self-assessments, observations or other evidence will show what your students know and are able to do?
  • And lastly, what learning experiences could provide your students with the opportunity to gain that competency? This, then, would be the web 2.0 environment you would use.

These questions reflect the core concepts of a ‘backwards design’ approach to creating effective learning environments as outlined by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their book, Understanding by Design. In this book, Wiggins and McTighe argue that only by first identifying the goals and assessments (the evidence of learning), and then working ‘backwards’ to design the syllabus and learning activities, can effective learning take place. And as evidenced-based learning outcomes become part of the higher educational landscape, it will be increasingly important for us to consider how, what and why we assess our students, our programs and our peers.

1Bloom’s Taxonomy by Heather Coffey.
2Kinetic connections: Bloom’s taxonomy in action by Bobby Hobgood, Melissa Thibault, and David Walbert.

Learning Repositories

Academic Earth

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines a repository variously as “a place, room, or container where something is deposited or stored” and as “one that contains or stores something nonmaterial”.

In education, learning repositories have tended to mimic traditional classroom learning spaces, where content and discourse have been constrained by time and space. Once a term ends, students have few or no options to access course materials or engage in continued discussions. One could argue that we are perpetuating an environment where students come to understand their learning experiences as discrete, disconnected and terminal. As more secondary and post-secondary institutions adopt and engage in more open and collaborative learning exchanges, how could this impact our programs, our research and our students?

We will have the opportunity to explore that question by focusing on various web-based social networking environments and how they can be used to support our students in the development of their linguistic and intercultural competencies. We’ll work together not only face-to-face, but online as well, posting our thoughts and comments on our blog, adding content to our wiki, meeting regularly in a virtual classroom and, I hope, connecting and collaborating with others through live video streaming of our face-to-face sessions.

Hands on activities during our first class will include practicing the various aspects of posting to a blog, including tagging, linking, and adding media, as well as the consideration of audience. At our first meeting you will be creating your blogger profile (you can see past examples here and here), so please have accessible, either on a portable media device or online, a digital photo or avatar you would like to use for your profile.

I look forward to learning with you!

Session Nine—Presentation Tools

Online Presentation
Online presentations in Second Life, courtesy of CC Chapman (Creative Commons License) from his flickr account

Chapter 7 of Educating the Net Generation discusses the results of a 2004 student technology use survey at 13 selected institutions. In light of the perhaps not so surprising results, the authors make an interesting comparison to the impact of the centuries-long printing press ‘revolution’ on academic institutions and formal learning. I’m certain you’ll find much that resonates with your own experiences when reading this chapter.

Chapter 9 of Educating the Net Generation takes a look at some of the issues that prevent a larger scale adaptation of technology in ways that go beyond course management to deepen student learning and calls for an articulated, coherent and cohesive approach that engages multiple players on multiple levels. I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about this reading, especially with regard to faculty concerns about the impact of ubiquitous technology on students’ critical thinking skills.

Educause also discusses a rather intriguing high-tech twist on the class note-taker approach in its article on Google Jockeying.

The Infinite Thinking Machine’s Mark Wagner recently blogged about a new application within Google Docs that now allows for web-based, collaborative presentations. He discusses the benefits and limits of this new addition and shares links to various applied examples.

In class we will explore examples of web-based presentation tools such as Spresent, slideshare and Screencast-O-Matic.

We will also spend time together working on our class wiki and classroom projects.


The results of the student survey in Robert B. Kvavik’s article “Convenience, Communications, and Control: How Student’s Use Technology” confirm my experiences at the University of Connecticut. Students expect me as a teacher to have technical knowledge and to use classroom management tools. During my first semester at the University of Connecticut I was hesitant to use classroom management since I had a very small group of students in my class and we seemed to get along without online support. The next semester students (in a larger class) asked me if I would use Vista/WebCT for class and I started to experiment with it. Now I cannot imagine teaching a class without it. I am able to put the syllabus, presentations, handouts, and grades online. There is even the tool that automatically calculates participation, the Midterm and the final grade for me. Also since I put up homework and class-assignments online, many students replied that they found it easier and more convenient to make up for a class. And, from a teacher’s perspective, I save time preparing classes and answering individual questions concerning assignments, handouts, and copies. In this perspective other tasks that are based on technology such as google jockeying or google online presentations as explained by Mark Wagner might be powerful tools that are worth trying and to be incorporated into classroom. How are your experiences in this matter?

As the survey demonstrated it is important to keep the knowledge and the technical skills and expectations in mind. However, as Alma R. Clayton-Pedersen’s and Nancy O’Neill’s “Curricula Designed to Meet 21st-Century Expectations” made clear, it is not enough that faculty has to “increase the understanding of teaching and learning power of technology” (9.2.) it is also important that the instruction has to be “blended” (9.11). In my opinion, it would be easy to provide a magnificent technically based classroom, including multi-media experiences and so on. If your are not dealing with conceptions of a Gesamtkunstwerk à la Richard Wagner than this might be a waste of time, effort, and energy, similar to a wonderfully sparkling technical firework that explodes and — nothing is last. Therefore, one has to make sure how technical tools fit into the classroom and how this helps the student’s actual critical (!) learning process and the understanding of a more and more global world.

Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1898


I always try to employ teaching methods which enhance student participation. Therefore, especially in content-based classes – where lecturing remains one of the key ways of conveying information – I strive to work on technique. For instance, I employ a variety of audio-visual aids such as slides, PowerPoint presentations, props and video clips. In my opinion, learning to teach is a lifelong endeavor, and I consider my teaching philosophy a work in progress, which I try to improve with new approaches, methods and applications. Ultimately, my goal is to foster a student-centered learning environment that nourishes critical thinking, a resource I believe to be valuable in any capacity or field. For this reason, I am very glad that, thanks to this class, I will be able to incorporate new applications and to make my teaching even more effective and, possibly, student-centered. In this context, a great source of help for us (instructors) is represented by the development of new Web presentation tools. According to Robin Good,“web presentation tools and technologies provide the means to deliver any PowerPoint-based or similar type of visual presentation to an Internet-connected audience, no matter where participants are connecting from.” The importance of these tools is given by the fact that, in Robin Good’s opinion, “until recently, sharing a PowerPoint presentation with other people, let alone doing this in real-time, was a major challenge.” Therefore, since the current generation of student entering colleges and universities is characterized by unprecedented skills in terms of technology (according to Marc Prensky, these students are actually “digital natives”) the usage of new and more effective web presentation tools is very important to incorporate more technology into our classes and to help us become more successful as instructors.