Technology Times

April 21, 2015

Why you should stop testing and start assessing

During the first day of the semester, one of my students commented: “Your class is the easiest class I have this semester. You don’t have any tests.” I laughed, but the student was serious.

I teach graduate level courses about educational technology, such as Online Tools for Teaching and Learning. The thought of asking students to take tests to show their knowledge had never crossed my mind. My goal has always been to design courses that capture the interest of the students and inspire them to take charge of their learning. I just don’t think that tests can capture my students’ true learning experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, I still assess learning. I just do it in a way in which students often don’t realize that they are being assessed. For ongoing, formative assessment, I ask my students to design, discuss, build, create, present, reflect, and share. My students create videos, interactive timelines, 3D models, animations, tutorials, websites, wikis, blogs, interactive images, digital stories, podcasts, screencasts, presentations, mindmaps, and collaborative essays, to name a few examples.

These “creative products,” as I call them, allow my students to demonstrate their mastery in a variety of ways and provide me with a way to assess what my students are learning during class and make adjustments to my instruction.

Both the ISTE Standards for Teachers (2008) and CAST’s Universal Design for Learning principles recommend allowing students to express their ideas and knowledge in a variety of ways. Yet, too often, students are asked to sit at a desk for hours on end to take the exact same multiple choice, short answer, or essay test to demonstrate what they learned. In the TED Talk “The Myth of the Average,” Todd Rose made an invaluable point: “Even though we have one of the most diverse countries in the history of the world, and even though it’s the 21st century, we still design our learning environments like textbooks for the average student.” According to Todd, when you design for the average (e.g., one-size-fits-all tests), you design for no one.

With widespread access to the internet and thousands of free online tools, students can express their knowledge and demonstrate their skills in a variety of ways. In February 2015, I was an observer-participant in the SOOC4Learning, a Small Open Online Course about Universal Design for Learning. The entire course exemplified the principles of designing equitable learning opportunities, activities, and assessments. Each week, course participants were asked to complete one task from a list of six options and post it in the Google+ Community. It was amazing to see how many ways there were to demonstrate competency. Take a look at the Week 1 course products and you will see that every single assignment is different.

It is time for teachers of all levels to start thinking about assessment in a different way. “Assessment” does not have to mean: “test.” So, I’d like to challenge all teachers to start thinking outside the scantron bubble and design more effective and equitable assessment tools. One-size-fits-all multiple choice exams may save you time during grading, but can students really demonstrate the depth of their understanding by filling in a bubble? Essay exams allow students to show their depth of knowledge, but does every student have to respond to the same prompt in the same way? That’s like assessing a monkey, penguin, and elephant by asking them to climb the same tree (Google “standardized testing” if you’re not familiar with this reference).

Before you design your next assessment, think about how you could create multiple options for students to show what they have learned (see the SOOC4Learning Tasks pages for examples). The ISTE Standards for Teachers (2008) recommend using new technologies and digital tools to design varied assessments, and fortunately, there are hundreds of free digital tools that students can use to demonstrate their knowledge. Here are a few curated lists of tools to help you get started:
Top 100 Tools for Learning 2014
321 Free Tools for Teachers
Web 2.0 Teaching Tools

It is important to note that providing students with more options for expressing their ideas does not equate with making exams (or classes) easier. You can still ask challenging, thought-provoking questions, but instead of requiring your students to sit in a classroom and demonstrate expertise in the skill of recalling information, allow them to choose their own way to express their knowledge. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

By Torrey Trust, April 20th, 2015, eSchool News.

Huge iPad buyer demands Apple refund

LOS ANGELES — What was supposed to be a boon for Apple and its iPad – has turned into a giant bust.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) not only killed a plan to spend $1.3 billion buying iPads for every student – it wants money back it says it already wasted on the botched program.

The Board of Education of the giant school district Tuesday is exploring legal action against Apple and its partner, educational material publisher Pearson. The two companies were supposed to provide curriculum for students to be used on the iPad.

Los Angeles’ iPad program was widely watched – and often described as the first big step to create the digital classroom for the information age. The moves by the Los Angeles school district, one of the largest school districts in the U.S., was supposedly designed to inject technology into the classroom.

LAUSD started its ambitious iPad spending spree in June 2013, earmarking $500 million to be paid to Apple and $800 million to upgrade the schools’ wireless Internet to power the iPads. The school district spent millions on 43,261 iPads, according to the Los Angeles Times, that were supposed to be loaded with the Pearson software. The iPads cost the school $768 each, of which, $200 was a three-year license to use the Pearson curriculum. The project was funded using school construction bonds, that were intended to pay for improvements to the district’s aging facilities.

But the tech dream turned into a nightmare in just months. Only pieces of the Pearson curriculum were even available at the time of launch. Rather than boosting student learning, in weeks students hacked the devices to get around their security, allowing them to freely browse the Web instead of using the devices for education. Meanwhile, scores of the devices have gone missing.

Now, regulators are looking into whether school officials somehow rigged the program in Apple’s favor. The iPads were priced at more than $700 apiece for the LAUSD, much more than other alternatives running operating systems from Microsoft and Google. John Deasy, the superintendent who championed the project, was also an Apple shareholder. He stepped down amid the project’s unwinding. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the bidding process.

It’s a massive setback for Apple, which has long staked education as its domain. Shares of Apple fell 61 cents to $126.17. LAUSD was supposed to be a test to get other schools to follow suit. Instead, many are examining lower-cost options from Microsoft and Google. Apple could be reached for comment. Pearson, in a statement, said, “This was a large-scale implementation of new technologies and there have been challenges with the initial adoption, but we stand by the quality of our performance. Our focus is, and has always been, on helping all students learn.”

By Matt Krantz April 16, 2015 12:28 pm, USA Today, Money

Cool Tools

In this “Cool Tools” column in School Library Journal, Richard Byrne suggests the following links for student projects and papers:

* Public Domain Review of images, books, essays, audio recordings, and films in the public domain:

* Free Music Archive:

* Sound Gator for miscellaneous noises:

* Morgue File for thousands of images:

“Go Forth and Reuse” by Richard Byrne in School Library Journal, April 2015 (Vol. 61, #4, p 14)