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.

References

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

BC Ministry of Education: BC Ed Plan: Focus on Learning, 2015. http://www.bcedplan.ca/ 

BC Ministry of Education: Prescribed Learning Outcomes, 2011. https://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/plo.php.

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.07.004

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.

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One thought on “Doing Better Things: Using Technologies to Transform Formative Assessments and Communication of Student Learning”

  1. This is certainly an interesting prompt to discuss. Personally, I think your usage of Weller’s work to support some of your ideas about EdTEch is well-justified. The first thing I think of when I read, “technology offers the possibility of not just doing things better, but of doing better things” is that technology doesn’t enable us to do anything better at all unless we consider the learner and educational needs first – that technology merely aids human learning when appropriated correctly. Your attention to communication and information access through digital technology certainly fits the current times. I can think of countless conversations I’ve had with students and faculty regarding the pros and cons of digital communications and the affordances of the web. It is essential to establish clear lines of communication between learners, teachers, and parents in K-12 education. For example, my daughter participated in blended learning this past school year. At first, there was very little communication between all parties involved, resulting in missed assignments and missed assessment/learning opportunities. Once her teacher integrated a few Google and Microsoft applications, including MS teams, many of the inconsistencies were resolved. We as parents had the opportunity to connect with her teacher from a distance, over digital means – what a wonderful thing.

    Great article and response to this prompt, Kristin. I’m sure your thoughts were well-received.

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

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