Technology as Recording, Analysis, and Communication Tool
Instructional effort is undertaken by both the instructor and the learner with the hope that the learning of something new will be the end result. Almost continuously, teachers arrive at various forms of evaluative conclusions that shape and guide plans for future instruction. The recorded products of evaluative activity can take a num- ber of forms but can generally be discussed in two chief categories: quantitative and qualitative data. Classroom technology can assist teachers with both types of record keeping, making the tedious, potentially error-prone activities quick and accurate, thus facilitating the straightforward report of progress to parents. Wolf (2006) reports that the ability to monitor real-time data will empower teachers to be consumers of data rather than simply proctors of tests. Mobile technology can provide this real-time data by providing instant feedback, which can enhance the assessment process (Brown, 2006). Further, technology tools can be invaluable in individualiz- ing student instruction to support the ongoing presentation of student learning.
Quantitative Record Keeping
Traditionally, students have been assessed according to standard, established criteria. A teacher’s grade book has always been thought to hold all the answers regarding a child’s progress. The story was told in the neat columns and rows of handwritten names and numbers.
Educational record keeping has received a helping hand from spreadsheet soft- ware. Now, instead of student names being entered by hand, they can be easily typed in. Records for new students can be inserted into the alphabetically correct position, rather than being tacked on to the bottom of the list, out of order. If assignments are resubmitted, grades can be modified without creating a mess of erasings and blobs of correction fluid.
The most powerful advantage of using a spreadsheet to keep track of student grades is the software’s ability to perform computational functions on numbers. No longer does a teacher need to take time to enter each grade for a student into a calculator to calculate an average grade. With a drag to highlight a row of grades, and a click on a shortcut button, a simple average computation can be placed into a target spreadsheet cell. Formulas can also be easily written to perform more com- plicated calculations, such as applying different weights to the scores received on different assignments. Keeping grades using spreadsheet software allows teachers to represent scores graphically as graphs and charts to present student achievement in ways that are readily understandable and comparable (see Chapter 2). Visually tracking student performance is an ideal way to involve students in assessing and understanding their own progress.
Numerous programs are designed expressly for the purposes of recording and calculating grades, planning seating charts, and keeping attendance, and it is likely that your school district will give you access to one (e.g., 1st Class Gradebook, Grade Machine, and Making the Grade [see Figure 15.2]). Formulas most useful in calcu- lating grades are already written and made easily accessible in these programs, and graphical outputs are created especially for student progress reporting purposes. Web-based grade book management systems allow teachers to manage grades from any computer connected to the Internet and email students when grades are updated (see, for example, Excelsior Pinnacle at www.gradebook.com or experiment with a free trial of ThinkWave Educator at http://www.thinkwave.com). Parents can input their child’s student identification number and a PIN code to access real-time progress, grade, and attendance reports.
Qualitative Record Keeping
As educational philosophy demands that students have authentic opportunities to demonstrate their unique understandings and capabilities, views of what type of information provides adequate indication of learning are changing. The steadfast belief that numbers can tell the complete story of a learner is giving way to a recog- nition that what a teacher observes in daily interactions with students is in fact very telling of the growth of those students. Indeed, as educators embrace this new anecdotal method of assessment, at the same time they scramble to find ways to consistently and comparably report student progress in words instead of numbers. This challenge can be made more manageable, and perhaps more meaningful, with the help of classroom technology.
By creating or adding to an existing database record for each child, teachers can record observations in a central, organized location. Even word-processed notes can provide handy reminders of progress when reporting to parents (see Figure 15.3). Both options allow a teacher opportunity to scroll back up through a student’s record to track patterns or make predictions. Although this type of recording could, in essence, be done with paper and pencil, handwritten notes are static documents. The text of anecdotal records recorded in a database can be searched by keywords to see, for example, how frequently a student has offered an answer in class or has had a problem behaving with another student. These records can additionally be merged into word-processed documents to create instant parent reports of student progress.
Because it is not practical to run over to the computer to access the database whenever a student says or does something of note, teachers can develop note-taking practices that work with the technology-based record keeping. Keeping a notepad handy allows teachers to quickly jot down the names of the students and what indication of progress they notice. At a later time, just as a teacher would need to take time to record quantitative grades, a teacher can sit with the database applica- tion open and enter the observations. Voice recognition technology can expedite this observation process by allowing teachers to record their verbal comments and trans- late them automatically into digitized text format.
Portfolios are alternative assessment forms that have been described frequently as the intersection between instruction and assessment. The Northwest Regional Edu- cational Laboratory defines a portfolio as “a purposeful collection of student work that tells the story of student achievement or growth” (Arter, 1995). Barrett (2000) adds the concept of the portfolio as a “reflective tool.” Whereas answers given on tests can indicate only a student’s response to a given stimulus (Kennedy, 1999) at a given time, a portfolio can function as a window into that student’s head, as well as a broad time line of learning. Paulson and colleagues (1991) note that a powerful portfolio should:
- Demonstrate that a student has engaged in self-reflection so that she or he may learn about and assume ownership for her or his own learning
- Involve the student in the selection of the pieces to be included in the portfolio
- Convey the rationale, intents, contents, standards, and judgments of the student’s work
- Show growth
- Serve a different purpose in progress than it serves at the end
The distinct advantage of portfolio assessment over more traditional tests is that the ownership of learning and product production shifts away from the teacher (Wiggins, 1989). Instead, portfolio development reflects a jointly negotiated process, reached by the teacher and the student, which entails complex discussions and customized evaluation of learning. Educators should strive for a balance between student-centered portfolios and teacher-centered portfolios. In the former, students collect, select, and compile items to illustrate personal learning. In the latter, portfo- lios are created and maintained by teachers with items that demonstrate learning in accordance with program goals (Barrett, 1998). Students must be carefully introduced to the concept of portfolios and to the methods of selecting items and reflecting on learning relevance (Stone, 1998). However, prescribing too structured of a portfolio format eliminates student creativity (Mills, 1997).
Traditional educational portfolios are collected in notebooks, binders, and even boxes, filling shelves and file cabinets. As artifacts of learning are increasingly represented with digital products, electronic portfolios provide a natural solution to representing student learning. Electronic portfolios can include word-processed writing examples, spreadsheets, scanned writing or drawing, digital photos, videos of performances or actions, audiotaped narration reading, or multimedia projects. Years’ worth of work can be efficiently stored on CD-ROM, making work much more portable than large binders of pages.
Educational portfolios serve purposes distinct from other professional portfolios; not a collection of every single item, as is the case with stock portfolios, yet not solely the best of the best examples that constitute artistic portfolios. Carlson (1998) suggests two distinct types of portfolios: process and product. Process portfolios collect students’ work throughout a period of time in order to show growth in ability and attitude. Product portfolios exhibit a selection of a student’s best work. Niguidula (1997) sug- gests that all stakeholders ask a series of questions to guide the creation of a portfolio-based assessment system:
- What should a student know and be able to do?
- How can students demonstrate the school vision? Why do we collect student work? What audiences are most important to us? How do we know what’s good?
- What hardware, software, and networking will we need? Who are the primary users of the equipment? Who will support the system?
- When will information be digitized? Who will do it? Who will select the work? Who will reflect on the work?
- Is the school used to discussing student work? (pp. 27–28)
Once these areas have been considered, Barrett (2000) identifies the following stages of electronic portfolio development.
Stage 1: Defining the Portfolio Context and Goals. Educators should consider why the assessment is occurring, what standards students should be able to meet, what resources are available, what skill levels teachers and students possess, and who the audiences for the portfolios are.
Stage 2: The Working Portfolio. The main concerns of this stage are the types of items to select for the portfolio, determined by the goals set in the first stage. Storage and software options should also be considered as work is collected.
Stage 3: The Reflective Portfolio. Criteria for selecting and judging learning artifacts can be managed with a rubric. Student self-reflections on artifacts and goals for future learning are key to determining the quality of the portfolio.
Stage 4: The Connected Portfolio. Learning artifacts can be organized and linked so that they can be navigated to demonstrate that the learner has met the learning goals. Such connecting also aids evaluation and planning for future instruction.
Stage 5: The Presentation Portfolio. Final storage options must be considered here so that work can be preserved, and students will share their portfolios in some manner, as in student-led conferences.