In earlier posts, I have talked about the idea of a distributed, networked learning environment. Learning materials are accessible to thousands of students instead of a small cohort. Learners connect and learn from each other through technologies that allow learners to share and collaborate: wikis, blogs, discussion forums, instant messaging, video sharing, among others. Learning, therefore, becomes a globally connected endeavour.
If learning continues to become more distributed and networked, existing assessment mechanisms become more difficult to implement. There needs to be new strategies and techniques that better align assessment with the learning requirements of the digital, information age. Formative assessment is a group of techniques and tools that provides opportunities for immediate student to tutor and tutor to student feedback. This feedback can be used to analyse current student performance and alter the teaching and learning activities accordingly, therefore it is a type of assessment that encourages more effective student learning. More effective because students could use feedback in a way that is meaningful, such as changing their learning strategies, use of online tools for learning, writing style, anything that allows the student to build on existing knowledge and skills so that they can perform better during learning activities.
Formative assessments therefore could be viewed more of a confidence builder than summative assessments, which occur at various points to sum up the learning, such as a grade on an assignment, although this could contain formative elements if constructive comments are included. Whilst students would not be able to use the feedback for that assignment, as an example, they could use the comments to develop their next assignment. But surely, if the students had received formative assessments during the previous assignment process, they would have achieved a better score?
As can be imagined, there is continuous debate and research into assessment processes, how effective they are, how they can be better aligned with teaching and learning goals, and how they can be better aligned with the requirements of the modern digital world. A conference presentation has shown potential of how assessment practices are changing in a digitally enabled classroom and how beneficial formative assessments are in this digital world.
During his presentation, Professor Frank Kowalski introduced a web based, real time, formative assessment tool known as Ink Survey. This tool addresses the call for more formative assessments with real time feedback in the classroom, and encourages teachers to set time aside during class time for such assessments. One of the most interesting features is that it gives students the flexibility to provide feedback to their tutors in a variety of different ways based on text or illustration. As an example, in mathematics, students could be asked to draw particular types of graphs or charts and send these to the tutor. The tutor could view immediately where they are with their understanding of graphs and charts. As a result, subsequent classes could be tailored to ensure that all students have the required knowledge before they move on to more advance mathematical topics. The tool could also be used to collect, and therefore act upon, student feelings either before a lesson, during a lesson, or following a lesson, on a variety of different things: the pace of the lesson, perceptions of the planned lesson, the content of the lesson, the approaches used for teaching and learning, and students’ understanding of the subject matter.
Flexibility, learning activity tailoring, instant feedback, and subject independency are important characteristics of Ink Survey. Flexibility in that a student can provide feedback in a variety of ways, through text or graphical means. The tutor receives the feedback instantly, and can provide the appropriate feedback quickly, as well as being able to use student feedback to tailor the content of a session, or to adjust its pace. Subject independent in that the tool could be used with a variety of subjects, in ways that are found to be suitable for that particular tutor and particular cohort of learners.
Ink Survey is a very promising tool that can make assessment much more student friendly, can help to tailor teaching and learning activities, encourage students to become more engaged with the development, pace, and direction of their learning, and to make learning , therefore, more of a personalised experience.