The pandemic hit...
We were forced to teach / learn online but marks didn't really matter...
Now we are teaching online (and in person or both or alternating) and marks matter, but how does one assess and evaluate well when teaching online (especially in High School Math)? This was the focus of my quest for knowledge regarding online learning this week. One of the best articles I found was put out by Andrew Miller in April of 2020 through Edutopia.org and titled "Summative Assessment in Distance Learning." Although not super current for Covid learning, the article provides some key focus points and strategies that I will attempt to summarize in this post.
This article is focused on school situations that did not necessarily choose to go to online learning, but through the pandemic have been forced into teaching from a distance. Courses designed for online learning are usually designed around assessment based on journaling, project work, peer interactions and papers. However for many schools and teachers, switching our evaluation practices has been one of the most challenging parts of this new way of educating. Miller (2020) states that many schools have moved to Pass / Fail which alleviates much of the pressure of specific grades and tests but this is not the case for us in Saskatchewan. The following is the author's suggestions to improve online assessment combined with my summary and commentary on these suggestions:
- STOP ASSESSING EVERYTHING - be strategic here, allow students to practice and receive informal and peer feedback, and limit how much you assess based on what will be meaningful. This strategy took me awhile to embrace because I felt the need to assess all of what students did online, to hold them accountable. This was painful for me and them and I have adjusted accordingly.
- ASSIGN PERFORMANCE TASKS AND LIMIT PERFORMANCE ITEMS - assess students applying and using their skills more than students showing individual skills. Great suggestion and important teaching strategy in general.
- ASSESS MANY SMALL ITEMS INSTEAD OF ONE BIG ITEM - this suggestion seems in contradiction to the last one, but not every application of skills and knowledge needs to be a large project, keeping assessment tasks applicable but still smaller is a good strategy for online learning especially when students may be overwhelmed with the adjustment to distance learning as well.
- USE CONVERSATIONS - using conversations and oral language to support student assessment is a great tool to diversify from students always writing or typing their answers. It also encourages explaining thinking deeper and use of oral language as a skill. This can even be done with many wonderful platforms that now support video submissions, such as ScreenCastify Submit or Flipgrid.
- USE TECH TOOLS - Although not all students have access to technology, for those that do, teachers can spend some time teaching students proper use of platforms and then use these platforms to their advantage for assessment (and even teaching). I mentioned the video platforms above, but using Google forms, Mentimeter, Poll Everywhere, Socrative or even Google Docs can really add to how teachers can interact with and assess students. Although there is an initial investment in time for learning platforms, hopefully the time is saved in meaningful assessment made easier and more time effective.
- TEACH ACADEMIC HONESTY - instead of assuming students will cheat, teach them to be honest and care about their learning. Although this may be a tough sell to students focused on grades, it is truly a large part of why teachers teach and so sharing that idea with students seems like a worthwhile pursuit. Cheating is not only dishonest, but robs the cheater of the ability to learn the material or the skills being offered in the course. In relation to Alec Couros' Twitter post related to Super Mario Bros, if you get your older brother to pass level 3-2 for you because you cannot, you won't have the skills to pass level 3-3, so cheating is really just going to screw you later!
- USE PROFESSIONAL JUDGEMENT - as teachers we may need to make totally different choices when teaching online versus teaching in the classroom. We may even need to make different choices for different students based on their access to technology or personality, ability or home-life. Trusting your professional judgement, and understanding you will not always be perfect is super important always in teaching, but now more than ever in distance learning.
The article finishes with a reminder that teachers must first build relationships, second teach the students and third assess their learning and understanding of material, so make sure to maintain those priorities whether you are in the classroom or teaching online.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments!