Saturday, March 22, 2008

Assessment in Web 2.0 Learning Environments

There is an interesting conversation that has started between the writers at Techlearning blog about how we should assess student work when they are using web 2.0 tools. David Jakes raises some interesting questions in his post (that follows a conversation that occured in Dean Shareski's ustream session last night). I tried to post the following comment on that blog tonight but every time I tried it returned as an error. Frustrated I am posting it here:

Jake's Question:
How do you assess contribution in a networked classroom?

Ok, so what does it look like? What's new, what's different, what's the same? Your ideas?

My Comment:
I must say that this question still requires some distillation. If you are talking about the mechanics of how to do assessment in these networked environments the answer is RSS subscriptions. I try to encourage teachers in my school to utilize web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs and the one overwhelming concern is how do I manage this information overload and how do I know when someone posts? The answer is to aggregate responses into a single reader so you are notified when someone posts among various places.

The flip side of this question, and the side that is most important and I assume is what is really being asked here has to do with how we define the rubric. I think it is dangerous for us to assume there is one or could ever be one set rubric for assessing contribution in a networked environment or any other learning environment. This is going to depend highly on what it is you want students to achieve academically. Ultimately, whether we use pen and paper or web 2.0 tools, we have to assess the learning according to the desired outcomes as they relate to the content. Otherwise we are just teaching students how to use the tools. Why do I need to learn this? When will I ever need to know this? These questions will flourish if we approach web 2.0 tools as an end and not simply a means. It is like teaching students how to build a house but giving them new tools to do it. In the end, whether they have hammers, handsaws, and screwdrivers, or power drills, table saws, and air hammers the house still needs to be measured by the same standards and benchmarks.

1 comment:

Carl Anderson said...

I am going to post this comment also on David Jake's blog and Clarence Fisher's since this conversation seems to be taking place in multiple places and connectivity is essential to readers outside the network:

I agree that rubrics should not be the end all be all of assessment in a classroom. However, like Clarence said, "How can they hit a moving target without knowing what they are expected to do?" I believe the inclusion of rubrics or checklists for assessment are necessary for dealing with what could arguably be a damaging necessity in our classroom: grades. Most of us are mandated to give our students some kind of mark at the completion of a learning activity or unit. I don't believe grades are always healthy for learning as they are by nature extrinsic forces and only really work when the student doesn't find any intrinsic value in the learning activity. Grades can do more harm than good, especially when dealing with something as engaging and intrinsically rewarding as a PLN because they diminish the intrinsic motivation by replacing it with an extrinsic reward or consequence. However, if we are mandated to use these extrinsic devices we have to make it fair. There has to be some way to clearly lay out for students how they can achieve a certain grade. The nice thing about rubrics is they can also work as teaching tools, not just assessment tools, because they can be instructive. They can also be written in such away that they lessen the extrinsic consequence factor by laying out exactly what needs to be accomplished leaving room for the intrinsic motivators to take over where the rubric leaves off.

But, assessment should be about more than just grades. Assessment should be about giving useful feedback that the student can take with them and either reinforce good behaviors or products or redirect misinterpretations or misunderstandings. Assessment should show students what they need to do to take their work to the next level. Whenever I have my online students participate in any learning activity I always give them a rubric and make it known that this is the measuring tool that I will use to give them their grade and ask students to do a self assessment using the rubric when they hand in their work. When I assess the work I additionally give feedback beyond the rubric that is individualized. This feedback I would argue is the valuable part of assessment for true learning learning. In a networked learning environment this can be brought to peer assessment or even opened to public assessment. The student's peers and any member of the the public who would contribute to the work's assessment is unlikely to use a rubric. Instead their assessment will come in the form of comments. Comments that are meaningful because they are from real people and represent real opinions and not sterile placement on a rubric. But, the rubric still determines the grade.