Deepening Assessment, Digitally

Summer Institute in Digital Literacy LogoThis week, I head to Rhode Island for my second year as a faculty member in the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy in Providence. I’ve been fortunate to be part of the leadership team again, and I look forward to working with educators from a variety of contexts: K-12 teachers, librarians, higher education instructors, and more. One key portion of my work this week is to collaborate with Jill Castek (University of Arizona) to prepare a keynote session for Thursday morning, “Deepening Assessment, Digitally.”

My interests in deepening assessment have been, well, deep, for a number of years. In 2015, I published Assessing Students’ Digital Writing, a collection in which I had worked with seven National Writing Project colleagues to examine their students’ work through the use of protocols. Our discussions about their students’ work led to their individual chapters, and the collection as a whole reminds me that we can, with diligence and discernment, broaden the kinds of digital writing we ask students to do and, more importantly, the ways that we respond to their digital writing.

Since that time, I have become even more interested in how we can use various media (text, audio, and video) to respond to students’ work. Through many courses that I’ve taught, as well as presentations and workshops I’ve delivered, I’ve been meeting more and more teachers who are interested in providing, with technology, even more timely, specific, and goal-oriented feedback to their students. For instance, I am curious to know more about how we might carry on asynchronous conferences with our students using tools like Voxer or Kaizena, or how we might have students reflect on their own learning by creating screencasts in which they describe the decisions that they have made when crafting digital writing.

Thus, as I head into planning for my keynote this week, there are a few key questions driving the presentation that Jill and I will deliver.

  • How do you define “formative assessment?”
  • In what ways do we typically think about using technology for formative assessment?
  • How might we use technology to help students deepen meta-cognition and reflection?

We plan to have participants engage with these questions through some brief pre-writing, pair-share conversations, and by analyzing some examples of student work/reflection. For my part, I am returning to a video that my daughter and I recorded a few years ago, In it, Lexi reflects on a number of the choices that she made to craft a piece of digital writing. As I reconsider the video for this week, a few of the questions I want people to consider include:

  • In what ways could we prompt and encourage students to create screencasts like this in order to describe their decision-making process as digital writers? What, specifically, are the questions that we should ask of students so they can substantively engage in reflection?
  • If we are asking students to assess their own work in this way, how might we move beyond using rubrics as a way to provide feedback? What, specifically, would we as educators want to discuss/reply to in a student’s work at this level?
  • Ultimately, if we shift to deeper, more substantive assessment practices that utilize technology in new ways, what implications will this have for our curriculum and instruction as well?

There are, of course, quite a few days (very full, active days) that will assuredly cause me to think more about these questions and how to frame the talk for Thursday morning. Also, I will have time to talk with Jill, which I very much look forward to, and we will have new ideas to consider together.

Still, the core of the presentation will remain the same. Jill and I want to push participants’ thinking about both why and how they assess student work. In turn, we hope that the process will open up more opportunities for them to think about their own teaching, in their own context, and to take these types of questions and conversations back to their colleagues once the institute ends.


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Updates from AILA Junior Researchers Meeting

This week, I have had the good fortune of presenting a keynote at the 7th Junior Researchers Meeting in Applied Linguistics, sponsored by the International Association of Applied Linguistics. I focused my keynote yesterday on both the work that I have done with my NWP colleagues to produce Assessing Students’ Digital Writing, as well as my own career trajectory as a teacher and researcher.

It has been wonderful to interact with various researchers throughout the rest of the morning, most of whom are finishing their PhDs or beginning their careers in Europe. As I listened to the variety of topics they are studying and questions that they are pursuing, I was pleased to see so many of them employing theoretical frameworks that address new literacies and methods that employ new technologies such as analysis of digitally-mediated communication — including words in English and other languages, as well as the new universal language of emojis — as well as screencasting as a tool for capturing, and then replaying and analyzing, the writing process.

Dr. Gitsaki's latest book: Recipes for the Wireless Classroom – Mobile Learning Activities
Dr. Gitsaki’s latest book: Recipes for the Wireless Classroom – Mobile Learning Activities

This morning, I was able to enjoy a keynote from Christina Gitsaki, from the Center for Educational Innovation, Zayed University, Higher Education, UAE. The focus of her presentation was on an iPad initiative that she supervised over the course of 18 months at numerous universities across the UAE. The major takeaway from her talk is one that I think we continue to grapple with throughout the world as we employ new technologies — how can we invite teachers to engage in meaningful professional development so their instructional methods change in substantive ways? That is, rather than simply introducing the iPads into the classroom and asking students to do something on screen as compared to doing it on paper, how can we instead engage them in a task that they would not otherwise be able to do without the technology? Needless to say, she shared a fast-paced talk, and here are some quick notes from her presentation.

  • MALL – Mobile-Assisted Language Learning
  • Looking at the explosion of mobile learning in 2005-201 with new technologies such as MP3s, PDAs, mobile (and then smart) phones, tablets, and laptops. This led to ubiquity, but then in 2010 the iPad brought about a revolution.
  • The UAE education system has a bilingual language policy, and students learn English for an average of 3-6 hours per week. All the courses in bachelor’s degree programs are taught in English, and about 20% of high school graduates are eligible for these programs right at graduation. The other 80% enter “foundational” courses to gain more English proficiency.
  • Gitsaki was in charge, as an associate dean, in implementing the iPad initiative. This involved 17 colleges, 22,000 students and the demand was for an entirely paperless classroom.
    • To assess this program, she conducted a variety of formative applied research methods including surveys, observations, and classroom assessment data.
  • Teachers reported that they gained confidence in using the iPads in the classrooms, managing their lessons, taking care of technical issues, and preparing materials.
    • However, they remained concerned that the iPads were really helping their students gain proficiency in English. Unfortunately, most teachers were only using the iPads for vocabulary lessons.
  • Students generally reported positive results with using the iPad, including a great deal of use in the classroom. Most of them do feel that the iPad is helping them learn more with English. In short, there is a very different picture from the students and the teachers, but this is all self reported data. Students were also using their iPads for other tasks, such as blogging.
    • So, she tried to correlate what the students said that they were doing with what the end-of-semester assessments showed, too. Students who performed at least three types of activities on the iPad in class and outside of class, did show some impact on their test scores.
  • Critical issues that we learned from the study:
    • Pedagogy — technology was dictating what the teachers were doing in the classroom, needed to help them use a “technology-enhanced,” not “technology-driven” method
      • Also, needed to teach teachers how to use the iPad in an EFL context. We need to discover and understand best practices for teaching and learning English.
    • Teaching materials — the materials created by textbook publishers were simply PDF copies; interactivity was very difficult because of having to use different annotation tools on the iPad
      • We also requested that the teachers to create their own resources, but we never really taught them how to do this; we had no expertise in teaching teachers how to create these resources
    • Assessment — current practices for evaluating the impact of tech in education needs to broaden; this does not fully measure the extent of the skills that students are learning
      • We need to find new ways to identify and measure the skills and knowledge that students are gaining from mobile tech
      • For instance, looking at a platform like Knewton for learning analytics
  • So, where does this take us as we look at mobile devices in the classroom?
    • Need a longitudinal research agenda
    • Need to rethink teaching tasks
    • Need to reconsider what it means to read and write in digital spaces
    • Need to understand how mutlti-tasking and environmental distractions can affect learning
  • Intro to the Center for Educational Innovation
    • Invitation to come to the center as a visiting researcher — travel to the UAE!

There are more sessions today and tomorrow, and I hope to find time to blog about them as well. For the moment, Gitsaki’s work remind me that we need to continue our efforts at teaching teachers how to employ digital tools and spaces in smart, critical, and creative ways. This is a challenge that I can relate to and — as is evidenced by the many other young researchers here at this conference — one that we will continue to face, and embrace, for years to come.


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Introducing Assessing Students’ Digital Writing

Assessing Students' Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely. Edited by Troy Hicks. Co-Published by NWP and TCP.
Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely. Edited by Troy Hicks. Co-Published by NWP and TCP.

By all measures, I am fortunate to work with so many incredible colleagues from the world of education, both K-12 and higher ed. Many times those collaborations happen in just a few hours, or a few says, and they then disappear.

However, sometimes they last for months or even years, and they transform into something much more powerful. Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely is one such example of that powerful kind of collaboration.

Here is the book’s description:

Troy Hicks—a leader in the teaching of digital writing—collaborates with seven National Writing Project teacher-consultants to provide a protocol for assessing students’ digital writing. This collection highlights six case studies centered on evidence the authors have uncovered through teacher inquiry and structured conversations about students’ digital writing. Beginning with a digital writing sample, each teacher offers an analysis of a student’s work and a reflection on how collaborative assessment affected his or her teaching. Because the authors include teachers from kindergarten to college, this book provides opportunities for vertical discussions of digital writing development, as well as grade-level conversations about high-quality digital writing. The collection also includes an introduction and conclusion, written by Hicks, that provides context for the inquiry group’s work and recommendations for assessment of digital writing.

Screenshots of Students' Digital Writing
Screenshots of Students’ Digital Writing from NWP’s Digital Is Website

Moreover, each of the book’s chapters include online resources available at NWP’s Digital Is website. One note here is a huge shoutout to my friend and NWP colleague Christina Cantrill who has made the companion site on Digital Is a possibility. There are six different pieces in the collection, including:

My sincere hope is that the student work shared in this collection and online will spark dialogue amongst teachers about when, why, and how they can and should integrate digital writing into their classrooms. If you have questions, please let me know.


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