November 26, 2012 in Next Generation Assessment
For a long time, education operated in a “digital desert” parched for data about what students are doing in their classrooms. Teachers and students worked closely together, but there was no effective way to observe and analytically gather information about these day-to-day processes and interactions. In order to gather any data about learning, we had to actually interrupt learning and administer assessments unconnected to the learning environment, so-called “drop from the sky” assessments.
Since these assessments were interrupting learning and had to get information about a lot of different, broad domains, a key element of them had to be efficiency. In addition, because our computing power was limited to some optical scanners and computers with amazing 6 MHz processing speeds, large-scale scoring efforts limited the types of questions that could be asked to those that could be scored with the existing technology. Hence, the constraints of the time gave us the multiple choice test—highly efficient at gathering information (although maybe not always the information we most wanted) and easily scored.
Today, we’re in the digital ocean. We can gather information about students’ daily activities and interactions with content as they happen in computer-based instruction. We have finally gotten to the point where there are enough computers in schools that we can have all students doing meaningful activity on them. Computers now allow us to capture all kinds of information about what students do as they interact with learning material, seamlessly recorded as they go about their daily learning activity. These interactions can produce an “ocean” of data, that, if used correctly, can give us a completely different view of how students progress in acquiring knowledge, skills, and attributes.
This ability to capture data from everyday events should fundamentally change how we think about assessment.
Invisible assessments allow us to gather information much more frequently without interrupting the flow of instruction, hence the term “invisible”. This lets us provide teachers, students, and parents with feedback about progress immediately and in time to make adjustments to teaching and learning. It also eliminates the common complaint about the heavy time requirements of traditional assessment.
By capturing many, many observations of a student over time, we are able to build models of student learning and proficiency without the pressure of performance on a single test.
Finally, invisible assessments can allow us to assess things we might not otherwise be able to. For example, I am looking right now at measuring persistence in students, which research tells us is related to successful academic outcomes. This would be difficult to do with much accuracy with a traditional multiple choice test. Gathering information about student interactions “invisibly” in a digital environment allows us to make observations in different, authentic contexts.
There is a lot of research to be done in this area, including statistical research on combining information from multiple sources, learning research about how to model learning progressions, and communication research about how to provide all this data to students, parents, and teachers in helpful, actionable ways. So, don’t abandon your cars for a jet-pack yet, but this work is being done now and the future of assessment will likely look quite different than our current reality.