Undoubtedly, the way our students see the world is very much different from the way we do. Their lens is an open one in which everything has validity. It is one dictated by a sense of immediacy, one through which they can judge others and themselves; one of endless choices – from music to friends to paths. Since our students see the world through these lenses and interact with it on ICT mediated platforms, we, as teachers, must acknowledge that these ICTs will undoubtedly impact the way we think about teaching and learning, the way we teach, our roles and the roles of our students.
ICTs as integrated elements of our classroom will also change the meaning of assessment and the way it is administered. Too often teachers use ICTs as part of instructional processes, but do not include them in the assessment of learning, and quite often, when used, teachers do not take time to evaluate the effectiveness of the processes and technologies used. And often too, the use of ICTs in assessment is misguided. Teachers often use computers to replicate traditional assessment tools, and not to measure learning in new ways. An example of this is the use of computer-based quizzes which simply replicate the traditional multiple choice test.
As a response to this I will firstly explore the major theoretical paradigms informing ICT integration and the implications for the classroom. I will then compare traditional assessment practices and ICT-based assessment practices in the context of the aforementioned theoretical paradigms.
Changes in the practice of instruction must be accompanied by changes in assessment. This means that teachers need to move away from the tendency to limit our assessment practices to traditional methods, primarily because they are easier, and because they have been the tried and tested way of doing things.(A very knowledgeable colleague once told me that the reason tradition is still around is because it works!) Tradition undoubtedly has its place, but as teachers, we need to start considering ways of assessing learning that are aligned to the ways learning takes place in the twenty-first century.
The major issues with traditional assessment are that it is often summative, reproductive and it discourages creativity. Teachers usually carry out assessment in closely monitored physical environments and within time boundaries, as in the case of a test. Sadly, even when homework is assigned we find ways of controlling when and how it is done. Furthermore, these assessments usually treat all learners as the same. No room is made for individual differences, learning styles and preferences, and students with special needs. Too often, this form of assessment limits interaction between learners. Because teachers focus so much on memorization, rote learning and essentially the reproduction of knowledge, attempts at interaction are seen as a direct contravention. If knowledge is not individually constructed then it is not valued. These assessments are usually pen and paper based assessments. Very little (if any) attempt at getting learners to use new authoring tools is made. These assessments are submitted, graded and most often returned to the students and archived. “Archiving” means that the assessment products find themselves in a burial ground somewhere. Their only impact was to help the teacher determine what the learner knows.
Authentic Audiences Mean Creative Products
ICTs can firstly broaden the audience for student products, in a sense making them more consumer-oriented. Essentially, the student becomes a producer aware of the intricacies involved in getting his/her product to a wide audience. In this case teachers can allow students to use Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, websites, and social media to conceptualize, design, develop and publish their products.
So a writing assignment can include publishing a blog in which learners share their views on real world issues. What does this mean for assessment?
In such a case the teacher is no longer the main evaluator of the students’ work. Other parties participate in that process. They may be other students, other teachers, or authentic audiences who have a genuine interest in the issues presented by the students. Because of this new audience students get opportunities to assess and develop their own work through the comments that they may receive or through statistics on viewership. More importantly, in the process of development the student is constantly aware that he/she is not writing for the teacher, but for a global audience. This will undoubtedly change their approach. Working on projects in such an open domain challenges the learner to constantly validate information. Additionally, word choice, tone and other structural elements of writing become crucial as he/she attempts to communicate ideas in a clear and unambiguous manner. The product is only as good as audience response, and therefore the student must make sure that it is aesthetically pleasing. This means that he/she will use video, graphics and other media to support texts. The student will be conscious of colour, font and other visual elements critical to creating the kind of appeal that he or she wishes. The student will be aware of the inter-textual elements that help attract readers and help get the message out.
Collaboratively Authored Products
ICTs support the philosophy of collaboratively authored products in the assessment process. If we believe that learning is not a solitary act and that it is a social activity then the nature of our assessment practices will change from a focus on reproduction of teacher-centred ideas to the construction of shared knowledge based on multiple perspectives.
Web 2.0 tools like discussion forums, wikis, Google Suite for Education and cloud storage such as Dropbox, Evernote and Google Drive provide excellent platforms for open collaboration on assignments, as well as excellent tools for publishing and sharing the final product. Those tools provide users with the opportunity to have real-time discussions on the development of the resource, to see what others are doing as concerns the resource, and to track changes to the resource. Google Suite for Education also provides communication tools such as Gmail, Hangouts and Google Chat which support asynchronous and synchronous communication between parties. Google Hangouts provides video conferencing as well as live chat technologies that support collaborative work.
Assessments can be Transformative
Using ICTs in the authoring and submission of assignments means that the products of student learning are no longer doomed to some dusty cupboard or box in some dingy room. Assignments need not suffer the dreadful fate of archiving, but can exist and re-exist in a world in which they can undergo constant revision and modification as the student grows from his/her experiences. Since the products of assessment are hosted online, there are always authentic audiences and always the opportunity for revisiting the product based on comments from the viewership. This means that the student gets an opportunity to see the impact of his/her work in a real setting, and not the abstract one usually generated by tradition, teacher-centred assessments. Blogs, wikis, websites and other Web 2.0 authoring platforms are emergent and have a very long self-life. Who knows? A student’s assessment product might one day change the world. Archiving works against this philosophy.