This is the first of a two-part series on embedded formative assessment in remote learning environments.
Schools have historically featured students taking summative assessments in formal, monitored, physical spaces. In many schools, these are end-of-chapter quizzes, end-of-unit tests, or end-of-semester exams administered in a classroom under the supervision of a teacher. Many of these summative assessments are substantially fact-based and together they constitute a fundamental approach to evaluating student learning. Indeed, student scores on summative assessments often constitute a majority of their final grade — especially in secondary classrooms.
Yet, as many teachers have learned, it is almost impossible to monitor student activity during remote-learning summative assessments. Schools cannot control home networks, or student cell phones, so it’s easy for students to cheat: They can Google answers, text classmates for answers, or simply ask someone in their home for help. As a result, many teachers are left wondering how to recalibrate assessment now that traditional, fact-based summative assessments are no longer viable.
Fortunately, teachers can leverage tech-aided, embedded formative assessment to reap a wealth of important student information for assessment purposes. Teachers can leverage technology to observe the student learning process in action and thereby improve their capacity to recognize student learning processes. As such, tech-aided, embedded formative assessment aids in making student learning “visible.” In other words, technology helps reveal student learning through its diverse mediums — text, images, graphs, charts, audio, video, and more — and often in varied combinations.
Tech-enabled formative assessment has a few basic configurations. It can be synchronous (live), or asynchronous and it can be student-specific or anonymous. Teachers have a choice of employing and varying synchronous or asynchronous activities. In synchronous environments, teachers and students have the benefit of immediate interaction and feedback, whereas asynchronous environments offer longer opportunities for students to participate. In general, student activity can be assessed informally or formally (i.e. graded), except that anonymous responses cannot be attributed to a specific student.
To illustrate, students might be responding to specific questions during a live (synchronous) teacher presentation using available technology and each (student-specific) response could be recorded. The end result would be a record of each student’s specific participation during the presentation. In another scenario, a teacher might ask students to complete a task on their own time (asynchronous) and record themselves performing the task. As such, the teacher could view the student learning process during the completion of the task. Or, a teacher might have students work synchronously (and perhaps in small groups) on a virtual interactive whiteboard where the teacher views various student activities — such as writing, drawing, brainstorming, or manipulating objects. The teacher could observe these activities in real-time or the teacher might record the activities for viewing later. Finally, in another scenario, a teacher might ask students to respond to important but sensitive questions anonymously, in an attempt to gauge student understanding as a whole without drawing unwanted attention to any particular student.
In tech-aided, embedded formative assessment, the assessment piece and teaching are intertwined and function together to uncover student learning. When technology tools are integrated into regular teaching and learning practices, teachers can glean immediate (or postponed) insights into student thinking and abilities and also recognize when students are encountering learning difficulties. One advantage of embedded formative assessments is that they are part of what teachers and students do on a regular basis, so teachers are not devoting time and energy to learning technologies that seem disconnected or foreign to their everyday professional undertakings.
Tech-enabled formative assessment also helps facilitate feedback. During a teacher slideshow, students might be called upon to answer specific questions at various junctures of the presentation. Beforehand, the teacher might insert automatic responses — such as an explanation of a correct answer — to be received by students immediately after they have responded to a question. The teacher could review student responses to questions at the very moment they are being answered, or later, in an attempt to ascertain how well students are understanding the content being presented.
Since tech-enabled formative assessments can be embedded into everyday learning activities it makes sense to identify a few instructional strategies that teachers employ regularly:
- Teachers create slideshows to present to students. Slideshow presentations are ubiquitous in education, however, students are often passive recipients of information during these presentations and teachers are often unaware of student learning during the process.
- Teachers require or urge students to take notes. But, often teachers do not have continuous access to these notes and are not aware of the student learning processes that these notes reveal.
- Teachers create “handouts” for students to complete. These tasks are typically pen-and-paper and distributed in a physical classroom. But paper is not interactive and cannot hold multimedia. Fortunately, not only can paper handouts be digitized, but they can also be enhanced and transformed with embedded activities and multimedia.
Now that we have identified three common teaching and learning strategies, let’s look at how three specific technology tools can assist teachers in enhancing them:
Nearpod is a popular cross-platform (Android, Chromebook, iOS, web) tool that helps teachers transform their slide presentations into engaging, interactive lessons. With Nearpod, teachers can easily add interactive activities and multimedia content into an existing PowerPoint or Google Slides, or they can also create an interactive slideshow from scratch. Additionally, teachers can search through Nearpod’s library of extensive ready-made slideshows and copy and edit them for presentation.
Nearpod offers a wide range of interactive activities and multimedia content. They include multiple-choice questions, true-false questions, open-ended questions, panoramic 3-D tours, an interactive “whiteboard,” a collaborative (“post-it”) board, subject-specific games and simulations, and more. Nearpod also offers commercial-free educational videos in which teachers can insert interactive questions at specific junctures. If a teacher inserts true-false or multiple-choice questions, Nearpod can grade student responses automatically. In addition, student activities such as drawing or graphing on a whiteboard or posting on a collaborative board could be graded by the teacher.
Nearpod lessons can be presented live by a teacher or students can follow the lesson asynchronously at their own pace. In either case, all individual and collective student participation can be recorded and teachers can access a student participation “report” at the end of a lesson, which documents their responses and activities.
Nearpod is a “freemium” tool, which means that some features are free, but others are not — or have limits. Free users are likely to run out of space relatively quickly, so it’s a good idea to investigate purchasing a school license.
- Google Docs
As many know, Google Docs is a free multimedia word processing application accessible from any device and enables users to create, edit, and share documents. Once a teacher and a student are on the same shared document, teachers can view all student edits to that document. Therefore, a teacher can leverage Google Docs to analyze student note-taking (or essay/report writing) at any time during or after class. Furthermore, teachers or students can embed drawings, images, and links to make documents more interactive.
Google Docs also facilitates feedback. For instance, teachers can use the Comments feature to ask questions, offer suggestions, insert links, and more. Students can reply to teacher comments and in this way, teacher and student can commence a back-and-forth conversation about the document. In the process, a teacher might uncover much more about a student’s learning and thinking process while writing and editing.
Google Docs also has a “version history” feature that enables teachers to see all revisions to a document over time. In other words, a teacher can see what a student added, or removed, and when the activity transpired. Thus, it can provide insights into the student work process.
Finally, math and science teachers can leverage integrate EquatIO, a free Google Doc “add-on,” to facilitate the introduction of MathType. EquatIO works with Google Docs to give users the ability to easily create formulas, graphs, and mathematical equations in a digital format. EquatIO also facilitates the creation of math expressions via keyboard, handwriting recognition, and voice dictation.
TeacherMade is a free web-based platform that allows teachers to upload handouts (e.g. PDF, PNG, Word Doc files) and add interactive content within the document. A teacher can insert true-false, multiple-choice, matching, and open-answer questions, as well as checkboxes, text, images, math elements, and more in a worksheet. It is also possible to insert media, links, record audio, and incorporate drawing and graphing.
A teacher can assign the worksheet to students via Google Classroom, another LMS, or manually create student IDs to use in TeacherMade. The teacher can set default scores for responses that have a “correct” answer and see student submissions instantaneously.
Individual uploads to TeacherMade are limited to 12 pages a month with their free account. Files can be uploaded from Google Drive and via a camera.
Fortunately, there are many tools and strategies that provide teachers with an opportunity to broaden and diversify their approach to assessment. Better still, these can be accomplished within a framework of everyday, common instructional practices that help engage students. COVID-19 has posed many hurdles, but schools have an opportunity now to reimagine assessment and in the process learn much more about ongoing student learning.