As schools were closing down at lightning speed under the disruptive circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak, many educators and administrators rightfully decided to deal with assessment issues after the storm had passed. More urgent things had to be settled first: how technology would rise up to the challenge of replacing the everyday physical education setting, how educators would transform their traditional methods to effectively implement virtual instruction, and, eventually, how our students would successfully pursue their learning goals.
But now we’ve already traveled this road and here we are again, facing the “beast” of assessment. Whether we belong in a system that values formal examination and grading even more so than students’ actual learning, or in a different educational culture that completely defies assessment methods, it is safe to assume that our standards were shaken during this exceptional period of mandatory distance education.
Several considerations come to surface. Will my students be enough motivated to study if there is no testing? How can I be sure they actively participate in class activities while they stay at home? In other words, where our assessments were thriving, we now have to lessen our reliance on it, and where it was left aside, we may now find ourselves desiring a piece of it. And finally, how can I learn from this new way of assessing to be prepared when we are, inevitably, forced back into remote learning during the next wave?
States, organizations, or schools having been giving guidelines on the assessment processes that are to be followed on this unique occasion, but educators also have some choices to make on their own. Regardless of the assessment tools and methods that will be applied, there is one crucial concept we have to keep in mind: consistency toward our students and the instruction we have delivered to them during this period.
What I mean is: we should be at least fair to our students. When their whole world was turned upside down within a week or so, we were caring and reassuring that everything would work out just fine. Let’s not suddenly shift and now start showing our most horrifying face in the name of the end-of-the-year assessment. We can always meet them halfway, considering what is truly important and realistically expected for them to have learned.
What to consider regarding assessment during distance education
1. Maintain the synchronous-asynchronous continuum
During this challenging period, most educators have revisited their methods in order to make them fit into remote teaching, but we also may have made the extra effort to upgrade them in order to support remote learning. The two paths we could take were labeled as “synchronous” and “asynchronous” – and the majority of us relied on both.
Therefore, our assessment tools should rely on the same pattern we’ve followed so far: partially synchronously, with scheduled online quizzes, oral presentations, and group discussions, and partially asynchronously, through short or long term assignments and projects.
2. Utilize the formative-summative assessment interplay
We more or less agree that some kind of assessment should take place while we are all working from home. Especially if we are forced to agree on this statement due to school or state policies, we know that summative assessment is just around the corner. Formal testing may seem a bit “out of context” right now, but we definitely have to “get our ducks in a row” and by this, I mean, get our students in-line for examinations.
Before we hit them hard with final tests and grades, let’s give them a chance to breathe through formative assessment mockup tests. We’ll get an idea of where they stand, provide meaningful feedback, and try again. This way, we’ll all ease into the actual examination.
3. Make assessment everybody’s business
A way to make assessment more user-friendly is to include our students in the process. Educator’s assessment has a certain weight when it’s elaborate and fruitful, but it is interesting to see an assignment through the students’ eyes. It can also be a good idea to combine this with group work, which allows more exhaustive peer- and self-assessment.
As a first step, along with the presentation of a task or a project, we can co-create a rubric for its evaluation, with a special twist that reflects special distance education challenges. Afterward, each task can be assessed based on that rubric through an online form, along with suggestions for reflection.
4. Let students express themselves through technology
There is a good chance that this period allowed us to work just a bit outside the strict curriculum limits and indulge, along with our students, in more authentic and inquiry-based teaching and learning approaches. If so, we should challenge them to take it up a notch and produce equally true-to-life homework for us to assess – with innovative use of technology.
Our students will definitely be full of ideas for this to happen but here are of my suggestions of media they are familiar with: the end-product of an assignment or a brief project can come in the form of a podcast, a webinar, or a blog. Chances are that they will be fully engaged during this task, enhance their learning potential, and receive a great assessment.
5. Show trust in their academic honesty
“Student cheating” is something we always fear and the elaborated strategies that fight against it reflect how big an issue it really is. In distance education, we feel threatened by it even more so, especially if our students take an online exam from their own home.
In my opinion, the very birth of student cheating and the source of our anxiety comes from the primary role summative assessments are meant to play: judging students’ learning. And yes, a few students may cheat if they’re after a grade. What if we remove this judgment, and reframe it as effective narrative feedback?
If you are still looking for inspiration, you and your students can both explore Discover, our new digital library with bite-sized Q&A content, and make a collaborative choice of their next assignment. You can also create a Topic and have your own students submitting questions for their task at hand. Through this process, you will be there for them throughout their entire inquiry-based journey; assessment is just the final destination.
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