Doing Better Things: Using Technologies to Transform Formative Assessments and Communication of Student Learning

I recently was asked to respond to this task. My response is below. I’m curious how you would have replied?

“…technology offers the possibility of not just doing things better, but of doing better things…” The Edtech Advocate’s Guide to Leading Change in Schools – Mark Gura. Reflecting on this quote, explaining how technology has provided opportunities for digital transformation related to ongoing formative assessment and communicating student learning. 

Mark Gura’s quote touches on several benefits to the thoughtful implementation of educational technologies. It encourages us to thoughtfully implement technology to address specific needs and users. Technologies enhance education by extending educator’s abilities to offer more flexible, collaborative, and more meaningful formative assessments and communications.  With the increasing use of technologies for assessments and communications, we can improve productivity by reducing the burdens of administrative duties on educators. These opportunities afforded by digital technologies allow us to more effectively “meet every child’s needs” (Agnia, n.d.). Thereby, allowing us to do better to help students learn and students to do better learning.

Digital Technologies Transformation of Ongoing Assessments 

Technology offers many advantages to formative assessment. Educational technologies offer more ongoing, flexible, collaborative, individualized, meaningful, and empowering assessments than many traditional forms of assessment.

Educators long recognize the importance of portfolios for ongoing formative assessments. E-portfolios offer some unique opportunities. In referring to e-portfolios there is also an embedded opportunity for self-reflection and self-assessment. However, the e-portfolio offers far greater opportunity for spanning a longer duration.

Some examples of tools for formative assessment with capabilities of a portfolio include:

      • Blogs such as WordPress
      • LinkedIn and LinkedIn Learning
      • MyBlueprint
      • Freshgrade

When technology is used for formative assessment it is more flexible

Flexible here refers to convenience, accessibility, and a less linear or rigid structure. (Brown, Rappert, and Webster criticize the improper use of  “school technologies [which] function in ways that leave little room for affective, embodied and spontaneous action. Instead, linear notions of progression prevail, and human ‘agency’ is channelled into productive engagement with digital technologies” (as cited in Selwyn et al., 2020, p. 104).  Instead of the linear structure, we can use technologies for individualized, project-based learning. Hooker acknowledges the use of e-portfolio’s to allow students to upload various modes of responses, from oral, video, text, or image-based. The e-portfolio also allows for students to draw from and link various resources and content. Increased flexibility is also true in mobility. Students can record activities from sporting events or travel (in non-covid times) to integrate into their assessments. So there is potential here, as long as the technology is implemented thoughtfully and with ongoing supports. 

Using technology for assessments can also be more Meaningful

BC Ministry of Education recognizes the opportunities provided by technology and independent learning and has reflected this in the new curriculum with core competencies, and big ideas. These and more project-based and independent learning emphasize relevant, personalized, and engaging learning. Assessments become meaningful when students recognize a real-life application or a personal connection.

An example of this formative assessment is the Career Education’s Passion Project. Where students are asked to reflect on their previous learning and build on their interests and skills through their secondary education program. 

These formative assessments also become meaningful in their connection to the First People’s Principles of Learning. These principles include “Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational. Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story. Learning involves patience and time. Learning requires exploration of one’s identity.” The idea of technology enhancing long-lasting, reflective assessments supports these principles. 

Individualized learning pathways through interactive and responsive technologies can also bring more meaning to learning activities. As recognized by the Ministry of Education “Feedback from ongoing assessment in the classroom can be immediate and personal for a learner and guide the learner to understand their misconceptions and use the information to set new learning goals.” Those goals can be more easily reviewed when recorded digitally, equally, the feedback can be more meaningful when it’s more timely and can be revisited. 

Assessments delivered using technology can provide a complete and more comprehensive picture of student needs, interests, and abilities as compared to traditional assessments. This allows educators an opportunity to personalize learning to make it more flexible, meaningful, and collaborative. 

Technologies can also be used to make assessments more Collaborative

A current trend in EdTech is to emphasize the human component of learning through emphasis on collaboration and communities (Weller, 2020). Weller recognizes the value in e-portfolios but identifies a challenge in reflecting the value through practice. The argument then is that blogs with individualized domains provide more flexibility and value beyond educational institutions (Groom, as cited in Weller, 2020). Blogs are used effectively in higher education and are more effective than the traditional portfolio for career advancement.

The traditional hard-copy portfolio’s sat in a classroom only to be presented to parents during the scheduled conferences. Now, with an e-portfolio’s parents and students can access the portfolio at their convenience allowing for affective asynchronous participation. These learning opportunities can include collaboration with parents and local or global educators 

A study by Hooker revealed that particularly when supplemented with observations, interviews, and surveys “the ePortfolios have the potential for strengthening formative assessment by the contribution of more voices of teachers, parents, and children” (2017, p. 442). Technology-based assessment can have tremendous potential to elevate formative assessments. 

Digital Transformation of Communicating Student Learning

Now that we are aware of the benefits of assessments such as e-portfolios, we can look at the advantages of using digital technologies to communicate the learning. We’ve come a long way from schools trying to block internet use in schools. By embracing information and communication technology we contribute to greater access to information. 

The first step in change management is to use technology to assess the communication needs of all members. .As educators we know that one-size can’t fit all, but we can improve communication, by meeting parents and children where they are. They are on their phones. This offers great potential for school-parent communication through messaging apps, management systems, and email

Digital Communications can be more Flexible

Access to mobile devices and individualized content allows for flexibility in our teaching and assessments. The prevalence of mobile devices also means that people are more accepting of asynchronous communications and resort to synchronous communications for only that which they see as urgent (Thompson et al., 2015). There is also ease of access through embedding applications into existing LMS’s. Thompson, et al. (2015) also recognized various communications are preferred for different purposes and dependent on modes richness. A hard-copy notice can get lost between the class and the bus. But the text or email goes directly to the parent’s hands.

Digital Communications can be more Meaningful

Communicating electronically can become more meaningful if it includes offers of support through links to resources or forms for signing up for workshops. This can empower students and parents to actively contribute to the learning process.

Communication also becomes more meaningful when it’s timely. Installation of AI chat boxes can be helpful in supporting parents through procedures. 

Another way technology can make communicating learning more meaningful is through MyEd’s standards-based grade book. In MyEd Newsletter an article discusses its value. According to a teacher, “[The teachers] have seen their students focussing on learning—not on grades. They have seen student conversations focussed on improving their proficiency level, with a better understanding of what is expected of them as learners. This is a huge success” (2018).

Collaboration through Communication Technologies

The BC Ministry of Education recognizes the value of effective communication,

“Effective communication between the home and the school is central to student success. Improving and ensuring effective practices for reporting and communicating student learning assures that students and parents will receive information about the student’s progress in a timely and responsive manner.” (BC Ministry of Education, Curriculum).

Rogers, R., & Wright, V. (2008) recognize additional advantages to digital communications. In middle schools, this allows parents knowledge and participation while allowing students a certain level of autonomy.  They use Epstein’s levels of parent engagement to recognize preferred communication styles. Easing access to communication means that parents can be empowered to support their child’s learning. In a  paper to address chronic absenteeism, Rogers and Feller (2018) recognize that if we use parent communications to provide resources such as positive engagement and problem-solving skills we empower them to positively influence their child’s attendance. In short, to be effective, we want to use communication to empower and work collaboratively with parents. Communication technologies help to build a collaborative and supportive community for the learner. 

These traits of digital technology assessments and communication mean that educators can offer opportunities for learning that are more meaningful, flexible, and collaborative. This leads to empowering the learner and the educator. By empowering these key aspects of a learning community, we are capable of an astonishing future.


Agnia, T. SD 22 – Technology Plan 2020-21. Technology Plan. SD22. 

BC Ministry of Education: BC Ed Plan: Focus on Learning, 2015. 

BC Ministry of Education: Prescribed Learning Outcomes, 2011.

First People’s Principles of Education. BC Ministry of Education. 

Gura, Mark. 2018. The EdTech Advocates’ Guide to Leading Change in Schools. International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

Hooker, T. (2017). Transforming teachers’ formative assessment practices through eportfolios. Teaching and Teacher Education, 67, 440–453.

Malcolm, Brown, McCormack, M. Reeves, J. Brooks, C & Grajek, S. (2020). 2020 Educause Horizon Report: Teaching and Learning Edition. Educause.
MyEd.  (2018). Teachers at Langley’s D.W. Poppy Secondary champion
standards-based gradebook. MyEducation BC Connection, 8.
Rogers, T. & Feller, A. (2018). Reducing student absences at scale by targeting parents’ misbeliefs. Nature Human Behaviour.

Rogers, R., & Wright, V. (2008). Assessing technology’s role in communication between parents and middle schools. Electronic Journal for the Integration of Technology in Education, 7(1), 36-58.

Selwyn, N., Pangrazio, L., Nemorin, S., & Perrotta, C. (2020). What might the school of 2030 be like? an exercise in social science fiction. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(1), 90-106.

Thompson, B. C., Mazer, J. P., & Flood Grady, E. (2015). The changing nature of parent–teacher communication: Mode selection in the smartphone era. Communication Education, 64(2), 187-20.

Unicef. (2020). Tips for schools on how to strengthen communication with parents/caregivers. Unicef.

Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.

Leading with Understanding

Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash

It is not as simple as it would seem to narrowly define key attributes of a leader in a digital learning environment. The context alone requires a breadth of technical, social, and organization skills. Therefore, I aimed to find one attribute that would encompass key values and roles within digital learning organizations. Understanding encompasses several traits required to fulfill the role of a leader.

Understanding, defined as comprehension (Oxford dictionary) is a broad enough quality to include the knowledge required to fulfill the role of a leader. This aligns with Group B’s first value, “competent” (2021, Beeby, Grymaloski, Koval, Norum, & Stoesz). To be a skilled leader, one requires an understanding of the overall processes, tools, resources, and roles. Having an understanding is considered necessary by Sheninger in order to make effective improvements to the culture and achievement (2014). I would include that demonstrating an understanding also makes a leader more effective in dealing with or supporting other employees. For example, if an employee is requesting more resources, a leader with an understanding of that employee’s role, tasks, and processes will make a more informed and therefore more effective decision.

Beyond having comprehension, being understanding also means being “sympathetically aware of other people’s feelings” (Oxford). Aside from having understanding, being understanding can inspire others to perform optimally. This then aligns with Team B’s (2021) second and third ranked values, supportive and caring. Being sympathetic allows a leader to anticipate changes or struggles and thereby address these sooner and with greater effectiveness (Sheninger, 2014). While, Sheninger claims trust is the foundational quality of current digital leaders, trust is developed through communication, openness and sympathy. Additionally, while being able to adapt to change is important, especially in this time of the pandemic, the pandemic has also shown us that we cannot plan for each possible scenario. In most scenarios, being understanding can be used to recognize where the problems lie and to outline careful and thoughtful solutions  (Khan, 2017). Khan goes on to consider the importance of leaders to recognize their followers values, struggles and responsibilities when including them in processes.

Both definitions of understanding are relevant beyond the western perspective too. An understanding of previous experiences and ingrained behaviours towards minorities (Batliwala, 2010) allows an empathetic approach to leadership. By acknowledging the past we enable greater capacity for value-driven growth and justice. A leader with understanding will be better able to take on differing perspectives (Barton, T. as cited in in Batliwala, 2010). Raising other up also follows “transformational leadership” as described by Batliwala (2010). The idea of instilling leadership in others is also recognized by Huggins et al. (2017) through distributed leadership. These lawered levels of leadership are evident in my current environment within the formal titles of Superintendent of schools to the Instructional team leader to those informal leaders that spark change or growth. For a leader to lead successfully they must use understanding to encourage leadership from others.

Effective leaders are understanding of processes, tools and are empathetic to all members of the digital education environment. This image of a leader is best described  by a metaphor of the unobservable current in water. The leader guides others through obstacles towards a common goal.  A leader with thorough understanding will be better at using an effective amount of pressure to suite the people and the context.



Batliwala, S. (2010). Feminist leadership for social transformation: Clearing the conceptual cloud. Retrieved from

Beeby, K., Grymaloski, W., Koval, D. Norum, S., & Stoesz, R. (2021, February 3). Team Forums [Discussion post]. Royal Roads University, Moodle.

Huggins, K., Klar, H., Hammonds, H., & Buskey, F. (2017). Developing leadership capacity in others: An examination of high school principals’ personal capacities for fostering leadership. International Journal of Education Policy & Leadership, 12(1). 1–15.

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or Transactional Leadership in Current Higher Education: A brief comparison. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(3). 178–182.

Oxford Dictionary. 2021.

Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of digital leadership. International Center for Leadership in Education. 1–4.



Design Manifesto

Principles are important to the continued and successful design process and improve the overall experience of the user (Design Principles FTW, 2020). The following are universal principles that reflect best practices for learning, technology, and design. The following eight design principles are most pertinent to design for public, distributed learning school. The alliteration of the eight simple words also intentional to improve retention and recall.

1) Sound: Sound design is “free from flaw, defect, or decay” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). While it is impractical to believe that a design can be perfect, the aim for perfection is valuable. This aim is best met when the design meets the intended purpose in an authentic way. In this sense, it follows the same principle to promote instruction (Merill, 2002).

2) Safe: Safe design means users do not need to worry about making the technology inoperable (Badashov, 2017). The design can also be safe in that it does not isolate or offend users. Safety is a particularly important measure in K to 12 education where users are minors and more vulnerable. Safety is also relevant to cognitive theories that state that activation of the flight or flight response decreases our mental capacity.

3) Simple: Bandashov also recognizes the important of simplicity in design. His example from the UK government states how “[t]he people who most need our services are often the people who find them hardest to use” (2017). If the design is not simple, users will quickly dismiss the design.

4) Smart: The main goal of instruction design is to improve “the efficiency and effectivess” of the learning process (Rothwell et al., 2015, p. 5). Therefore, a smart design is intuitive to improve its ease of use and avoid deterring a user’s progress or increase their frustration.

5) Supported: In instructional design, the design needs to be supported within the whole organization, by administrators and educators at a minimum. Technology also requires supports to maintain the system and proceed with subsequent versions, correct fixes, and support users. This could be in the form of a help desk or adequate training. This value of a community of learners and leaders within a network of learning is supported by the connectivist model (Dron, 2014).

6) Soft: A soft design can adapt and react to user feedback or changing needs. Greater malleability offers greater options for innovation and change (Dron, 2014). A design that is adaptable will have more staying power. Similarly, technology is a fast-paced industry and adaptability is essential to staying relevant.

7) Space: White space, the unused portion of a document (Merriam-Webster), is necessary in visual design as it allows for rest and processing time. This is equally important in instructional design. Processing time for the user improves cognition and retrieval. A busy design is distracting to the user and can also reduce our other design principles such as “Simple” or “Sound”.

8) Shared: Shared design is accessible for all users. This includes those with learning or financial challenges. Just as technical designs should meet the current W3C world accessibility protocols, instructional designs must meet varying learner needs. A design can also be shared among relevant groups through open licensing to spur considerate debate (Baker III, 2020) and continued growth and problem solving. By participating in open sourced/common resources design can also practice and model the value of open (Morgan, 2019).



8 Principles of Design
Created using



Badashov, A. (2017, February 8). Design Principles Behind Great Products.

Baker III, F. W., & Moukhliss, S. (2020). Concretising design thinking: A content analysis of systematic and extended literature reviews on design thinking and human‐centered designReview of Education8(1), 305-333.

Cambron, T., (2016, May 24) Designing better experiences for people facing anxiety. Model View Culture (37).

Design Principles FTW. (2020). What are Design Principles Anyway?

Dron, J. (2014). Chapter 9: Innovation and change: changing how we change. In Zawacki-Richter, O. & T. Anderson (Eds.), Online distance education: Towards a research agenda. (pp. 237-265). Athabasca, AB: AU Press.

Merriam-Webster (n.d). Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instructionEducational Technology Research and Development50(3), 43-59.

Morgan, T. (2019). Instructional designers and open education practices: Negotiating the gap between intentional and operational agencyOpen Praxis11(4), 369-380.

Rothwell, W. J., Benscoter, B., King, M., & King, S. B. (2015). Chapter one – An overview of Instructional Design. In Mastering the Instructional Design Process: A Systematic Approach. (pp. 1-16). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

W3C. Accessibility Principles.


**Edited, January 18th to add LRNT 524 category.

Unit 2, Activity 1 – Design Tools


Mindmap created at Mindmeister


To display my design tools I created a mindmap using Boling and Gray’s categories (2015, as cited in Lachheb & Boling, 2017). This process was interesting in that it forced consideration of my design strategies rather than my usual instinctual process. As far as methods, my teacher training, mostly included starting with the end task or outcome, similar to McTighe’s Backwards Design Model described by Moore (2016). Other than that formal training, teachers are mostly left to their own devices. As I’ve been teaching for several years many of the processes of design are fluid and ingrained.

In reflecting on my practice in learning design, I see that the collaboration piece is more substantial than I would have originally assumed. Also, I find that most of my choices are situational, rather than rationalist, as divided by Lachheb and Boling (2018). In part, this more of a result of pragmatism in choosing tools that are accessible in the sense of availability and ease-of-use for students and teachers alike.

This process has also shown that much of my design process is around adapting, streamlining, and standardizing courses taken from the Western Canada’s Learning Network. In the DL school I work at, we value standardization and consistency within our program to limit student frustrations and increase the predictability of the course. There are many working parts to the design process and so the mind map above is just one snapshot.


Lachheb, A., & Boling, E. (2018). Design tools in practice: instructional designers report which tools they use and whyJournal of Computing in Higher Education30(1), 34-54.

Moore, R. L. (2016). Developing distance education content using the TAPPA processTechTrends60(5), 425–432.

Technology is not Neutral

Photo by Matthew Fassnacht on Unsplash

In the final third of Wellers 25 years of ed tech (2020) the quote, “technology is not ethnically or politically neutral” (p. 188) resonated with me. I agree with this comment so completely and yet it is rarely at the forefront of my thinking when developing or instructing an online course. From Weller’s book it seems as though there are two main causes for the biases of technology. The first are the structures of search engines. Second is the human construction of online courses. These points are accentuated when I read articles like Bloomberg’s “Trump Wants $5 Billion from TikTok deal for history project”  where there is a blatant misuse of power and technology to spur biased information.

In his discussion of computer-mediated communications, Weller refers to how the natural process of communication that occured in a university settings needed to be intentionally built into online courses. However, there is the potential for courses developers that are building in these natural processes to provide limited or biased perspectives. In a face-to-face classroom, there would be more natural checks and balances by the opportunities to learn from each others perspectives and experiences. Having an awareness of our own biases and limitations is important when constructing online courses so that our intentional structures don’t unintentionally restrict the learning process or present bias. Could the potential lesson here be to provide more options within online courses to limit our own biases? Or to have teams of course developers?

According to Weller, another cause of bias within technology are the algorithms that promote “polarizing content” (173). Weller is right in pointing out the social responsiblity educators have. As a K-12 teacher there needs to be some safe guards when allowing students to find their own resources. This also emphasizes the importance of teaching skills that would allow students to find and process information online in a critical and thoughtful way.

An awareness of the bias within technology is important to use as a mirror to reflect on our own practice.


Jacobs, J., Parker, M., & Wingrove, J. (2020, September 20). Trump Wants $5 Billion From TikTok Deal for History Project. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.

Theoretical Frameworks

As part of the Introduction to Research: Critical Reading and Writing course, we considered the importance of adopting a theoretical framework through which to conduct research. Then we created an annotated bibliography of articles that adopted these frameworks. We also created a presentation on selected theoretical frameworks. The theories our team worked on were activity theory, cognitive load theory, motivation theory, and personality theory. 

You can view the presentation here.

You can also view our annotated bibliography here.


Activity Theory

Coghlan, D., and Brydon-Miller, M. (2014). Activity theory. The SAGE encyclopedia of action research (Vols. 1-2), (pp. 22-24). SAGE Publications Ltd.

Kaptelinin, V., and Nardi, B. A. (2006). Acting with technology : Activity theory and interaction design (Ser. Acting with technology). MIT Press.$26870:_ss_book:18551#summary/BOOKS/RW$26870:_ss_book:18551

Cognitive Load Theory

Sweller, J., van Merrienboer, J. J. G., & Paas, F. G. W. C. (1998). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design. Educational Psychology Review, 10(3), 251-296. https://10.1023/A:1022193728205

Motivation Theory

Cook, D. A., & Artino, A. R. (2016). Motivation to learn: an overview of contemporary theories. Medical Education, 50(10), 997–1014.

Personality Theory

Kaushal, K.B., Leon, Y.W., & Chun-Yen, C. (2019). The impact of personality on students’ perceptions towards online learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 34(4).